During Under Armour’s keynote presentation at CES on Friday, an audience of hundreds received a science lesson from Tom Brady.
Or, at least, a commercial starring Tom Brady. The Patriots quarterback made a cameo to sell the company’s new collection of “athlete recovery sleepwear,” soft clothing that’s lined with a “bioceramic” print to help you recuperate faster after workouts. “It’s very functional wear,” Brady said on the ballroom Jumbotron, decked out in gray jammies. “It’s far infrared, which, when it hits your skin, it ends up reducing inflammation. We usually use ceramic with certain acute injuries, so I thought this would provide incredible benefits if it was embedded in the sleepwear. Without the sleepwear, I don’t think I would be able to achieve the things that I have done and hope to continue to do.”
Brady’s mention of “ceramic,” by the way, refers to the ceramic nanoparticles by which far infrared radiation is often delivered. Who knew that the Patriots’ star quarterback is both a casual radiation buff and — as Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank described him — a bona fide “sleep expert”? (The audience was also lectured on Brady’s “six steps to a good night’s sleep.”) Plank appeared onstage in Las Vegas after revealing Brady’s commercial to insist that it was the football player himself who — after using a far infrared gel on an injury during the beginning of his 2014 training season — challenged the company to develop a shirt that contained the same technology.
It’s a sweet origin story, but an unlikely one. Here’s what probably happened: The Under Armour team wanted to maintain an edge on the competition and, like many other clothing companies, decided to embrace the market of high-tech fabric. Maybe they did some Googling. And maybe their research pulled up the few existing companies that use fabric threaded with far infrared radiation fibers to make gloves, socks, and knee braces to treat arthritis, foot, and joint pain. A slick marketing campaign and two celebrity brand ambassadors later, Plank stood onstage at CES to declare, “These aren’t just pajamas, these are advantages.” As much as I’d like to give Brady credit for this scientific breakthrough, and for his glorious accomplishments in sleep, he’s likely just the first high-profile face of a known technology that, over the years, has been delivered to patients in the form of specialty lamps, saunas, and bands that looked like medical accessories.
Do these magical pajamas actually work? A solid collection of experiments have shown that when far infrared radiation (FIR) was applied to patients at high temperatures, it led to improvement in therapeutic and medical treatments. It hasn’t been proved, however, that FIR delivered at lower temperatures — like Under Armor’s body-heat-activated “bio-ceramic” print — have significant biological effects. In less scientific terms: They might work! But, of course, uncertainty is always relative when a person’s goal is not to treat arthritis or joint pain, but to simply feel as good as possible about the health-related decisions they’re making.
Tom Brady is not a wildly successful professional football player because he sleeps in a shirt lined with FIR. He has a personal chef who excludes white sugar, white flour, MSG, iodized salt, peppers, mushrooms, eggplants, and tomatoes from his diet. He has never eaten a strawberry. His best friend Alex Guerrero also happens to be his “spiritual guide, counselor, pal, nutrition adviser, trainer, massage therapist,” according to a 2015 New York Times Magazine profile. This man is an elite athlete because of his own dedication to the sport, and a support system of talented professionals who keep him in top shape. He could probably sleep in a burlap bag if he wanted.
There are few people for whom the stakes are as high, and the daily regimen is as rigid. But if it gives you peace of mind to spend $80 to $100 on this high-tech sleepwear, go ahead. At least we know they won’t hurt.