Tom Brady is the oldest non-kicker in the NFL, now that the ancient Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson have retired. When the almost-39-year-old is asked about his plans, he says “When I suck, I’ll retire.” A simple plan, like all good plans, but what’s left unsaid is how long he plans to not suck: as long as physically possible, regardless of precedent or previous definition of human capability. Brady entered the league in 2000 and won his fourth Super Bowl in 2015, but he hasn’t shown any of the typical signs of aging displayed by his contemporaries. He wants to play into his 40s, and he very well might. This professional longevity also happens to be his most valuable post-retirement asset, with everyone from here to everywhere clamoring for his secret fountain of youth. Brady’s personal interest in optimizing his own physical capability has turned into a viable long-term business strategy, and it’s coming together sooner than expected.
Tom Brady does not have your typical off-field quarterback personality. Most people might find him soft-spoken, maybe a little bit awkward. He plays golf a lot. He doesn’t model for Levi’s or Icy Hot, but for Ugg and TAG Heuer (and also Under Armour/Funny or Die, if you have a minute). He eats red meat, but only in the winter when it’s a “hot property” food, a reference to traditional Chinese medicine. He cried in public in 2011, reminiscing about the experience of almost not being drafted. He endorses off-brand health-conscious halloween candy along with his wife, legendary Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen. She’s the celebrity humanitarian, recently renowned for her environmentalism, but Brady’s voice resonates similarly in a smaller industry more related to his career: health and wellness.
Through his experience in sports he’s developed a skeptical relationship with modern medicine, often utilizing more traditional methods instead. He emphasizes prevention over reaction and maintenance over time, adopting a holistic approach and a rigorous diet. Brady and Bündchen eat 80% vegetables, according to their private chef, and they withhold completely from most sugars, white flour, olive oil, iodized salt, tomatoes, mushrooms, dairy and caffeine (to name a few). Sometimes he’ll sneak a banana into a smoothie, but no fruit other than that. Meat is lean steak, chicken or fish, if any. His immediate goal is to reduce inflammation in his muscles–a common theme with professional athletes–but his passion lies in optimizing his diet and overall well-being, despite the low, low standards of today’s food industry. Brady has publicly questioned people’s ability to make healthy dietary choices, accusing Coca-Cola and others of lying to consumers and selling poison to children.
“That’s just America. We believe that Frosted Flakes is a food. You keep eating those things and you keep wondering why we do have just incredible rates of disease in our country.”
Brady established his health and wellness center, TB12, in 2014, focusing on individual clients’ peak performance and injury prevention. His own body is the product of this company, so he is his most compelling success story. TB12 focuses on preventative therapy, or what they call “prehab.” Most of this centers around muscle pliability, which in turn focuses on proper exercise, massage therapy, nutrition and hydration. But TB12 is a growing company, poised to be Brady’s life after football, and it recently established a nutritional division. Anyone interested in the aforementioned Brady/Bündchen diet need look not further than the TB12 Nutrition Manual, a “living document” designed to “support your TB12-aligned nutrition plan.” This book has handmade wooden bindings made to be unscrewed and rebound with new, seasonally inspired recipes every year. Combine that with the performance-sustaining knowledge within and we’re talking a cool $200 for the book. Well, except that it’s sold out right now, so you just have to wait.
It also’s also more of, like, a lifestyle than just the cooking and stuff, so it is therefore absolutely “not a cookbook.” Sure, maybe it’s a paper-based assemblage of cooking instructions, or perhaps even a “recipe collection,” but to oversimplify the product belies its intent as a cog in a much larger health and wellness machine. These recipes are not for you to impress your friends after book club. They probably won’t make you better at cooking, and they definitely won’t make you particularly full. Many of these recipes are nut-based, consisting of cashew cheese and walnut meat. Others seasonally emphasize certain organs (“in spring we love our livers, while fall is the season of the spleen”). You might need exotic ingredients to complete your meal, or hours of preparation for a relatively minor section of the dish. The book is large, fancy, and easily absorbs errant cooking liquids. The food isn’t very tasty, the book is way too expensive, and you probably don’t need it.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome.
Earlier this year I wrote about doing what you love and how if you really want to be something you should just go ahead and be it. Well that’s true for Andy Frasco and that’s true for Tom Brady; do what you love to do until it becomes your life. Build on the foundation that already exists inside of you. Most retired athletes either leave their competitive passion behind or go into one of several sports-related industries, but coaching, managing or broadcasting isn’t athletic. It’s business, entertainment, and a totally different skill set. Tom Brady doesn’t want to be on TV (without a helmet on, at least). He doesn’t want to stop doing what he loves, even for a moment, even if nobody’s watching, even if he no longer gets paid for it. Listen to him talk about his training and it’s obvious that, while he loves championships and all that, what he really lives for is the daily grind, the preparation, the physical commitment he puts himself through that has served him so well for so long. He goes to bed at 8:30 every night. He’s never touched coffee in his life. His favorite food is avocado-based ice cream (the recipe for which you can find in the nutrition manual). Teammates refer to his food as “that birdseed shit.” He lives and breathes this lifestyle every day of his very successful life. What a great idea, to create a lifestyle brand around a quirky byproduct of Tom Brady’s famous discipline. Obviously, on-field performance is his first priority for the foreseeable future, because that’s what his goal has been since he declined to play professional baseball in 1995. But maybe the smartest thing he’s done, other than decide to work hard at sports, is align his goals with his skills, his commitment with his passion, to turn what he loves into a convenient new life after football.