Diet trends come and go. But one tried-and-true nutritional adage has stood the test of time: You are what you eat.
Like any great maxim, it just sounds true. And it was a thought I kept firmly in mind when I received my coveted copy of the newly published (and freshly sold-out) TB12 Nutrition Manual — a $200 immersion course in Tom Brady’s unique philosophy of nutrition. The 103-page “living document” is hand-assembled and screw-bound between twin slabs of “laser-etched” maple and comes complete with 89 aggressively healthy recipes pulled straight from Brady’s spacious contemporary country kitchen (via personal chef Allen Campbell).
Surely, I thought, to be more like Tom Brady, one must eat more like Tom Brady.
Well, spoiler alert for everyone but my mother (who requires no further public reminders): I am not Tom Brady, and his book isn’t about to help me become like him. As discipline, TB12 is a little too much; as dinner, it’s much too little.
Brady’s philosophy of nutrition balances on yin and yang elements. It’s “common sense” and “cutting edge,” he writes, Eastern and Western, simple and complicated. It’s all about eating seasonally, decreasing inflammation, and increasing muscle pliability — a.k.a., “the ‘missing third leg’ of athletic preparation.” (That a third leg can be considered “missing” is an indicator of the outside-the-box thinking you must bring to this challenge.) TB12 means maximizing wellness and minimizing, well, food.
At the core of the Brady plan is an extensive list of no-nos, from processed foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates to gluten, dairy, and fungus (ew, mycotoxins!). He also recommends maintaining strict limits on consumption of inflammatory nightshade veggies (like tomatoes), salt, caffeine, and alcohol. Remind me to skip the next Brady brunch.
Essential to the recipes in the TB12 Nutrition Manual are a bunch of groceries you likely do not already have: things like mung beans, oat flour, yuzu juice, and smoked salt. Campbell’s recipes, Brady informs us at the outset, are crafted to “support your TB12-aligned nutrition plan” and “help you achieve and sustain peak performance.”
These goals presented some immediate challenges. For one thing, my current “nutrition plan” is more “aligned” with an as-yet unbranded Vince Wilfork model than with any particular Brady methodology. For another, my last brush with “peak performance” was back in graduate school, when I outran a swan I’d somehow managed to anger. My optimum performance level rests somewhere between “idle” and “adequate.”
But the most significant obstacle was the literal nuttiness of the Brady diet. The man is a nut nut. A healthy percentage of the recipes employ all sorts of nuts in all sorts of creative ways (from scare-quoted “cheese” made from cashews to “walnut meat” and various nut milks, bars, and brittles). Due to my entirely real and not-made-up nut allergy, this ensured that most of these dishes would come served with a side of anaphylaxis.
Still, there were plenty of recipes that, theoretically, I could enjoy. Apart from a section devoted to breakfasts and “grab and go” snacks and another on desserts (most of them deadly to me), the manual is broken up by season, giving special attention to the ingredients and the pampering of various organs (in spring, we love our livers, while fall is the season of the spleen). It sounds like a playbook for eating right all year long, but unlike a star quarterback, many of Brady’s recipes do not set you up for success.
A puzzling ceviche of thinly sliced grouper, green beans, and sweet potatoes impossibly calls for just 1 tablespoon of lime juice to cure 4 ounces of fish (you’ll need at least two whole limes) and stays mum on how to prep the yam (baked at 425 degrees for 45 oughta do it). Japanese-style fish cakes that bank on taro or potato instead of eggs as a binding agent routinely devolved into scorched mounds of feral brandade in the pan. A potentially rich but stubbornly bland chicken and vegetable soup apparently requires just 12 minutes of simmering time. The various infractions committed by a spinach “risotto,” from precooking (!) brown (!!) rice to including a fistful of basil in the ingredients that never makes it into the instructions, are all enough to set Christopher Kimball’s bow tie spinning — and that’s before he cracks a tooth on the undercooked rice.
For one thing, cookbooks lie flat. This doesn’t. Despite the object’s allure as a hand-bound, inkjet-to-table, artisanally crafted three-ring binder of sorts, it’s infuriatingly not built for the job of cooking. This also applies to the maple cover, which wastes no time wicking up whatever “evoo,” coconut nectar, or mackerel water you’ve managed to spill on the counter.
For another, cookbooks are supposed to make food look appetizing. Despite the steep price of the TB12 manual, the production values are garishly low-res and low-budget. The recipes themselves are poorly organized, and many require ingredients from the sort of grocery stores that stock chia seeds where the Twix bars are supposed to be.
Between the specialty groceries and the price of the manual itself, the TB12 investment can leave you feeling a bit, shall we say, deflated (snap!) once you behold what’s on the plate. And it’s not just money you spend a lot of. Even a kale Caesar — with cashew dressing and mysterious “creamy soup” — would turn into a 45-minute undertaking. And if you don’t already have two cups of Brady’s bone broth waiting in the fridge, that’ll cost you another 18 hours.
As a “living document,” it may be premature to judge the TB12 manual before the promised expansion packs of new recipes are sent to early adopters (get those screwdrivers ready). But to say I’m hungry for more would be a major understatement.
So, as I wait, I’m adopting a hybrid approach: using the book as the cutting board for some delicious banana bread.