The short track speedskater's trainer explains the 27-year-old's diet and workout regime

By Cynthia Wang
Updated February 27, 2010 12:00 PM
Andy Clark/Landov

On Friday night, short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno ended his phenomenal Vancouver run with his third Olympic medal. This time, it was a bronze, in the 5,000-meter relay – his having been disqualified from the 500-meter finals, where he had won gold in Torino.

The American team helped Ohno, 27, make history as he added to his distinction of being the most decorated U.S. Winter Games athlete of all time. “It was really a team effort,” a grateful Ohno said after the race. “Without these guys, I wouldn’t be able to skate individually.”

And individually, Ohno has credited his intense and disciplined training for his successful outcomes, including his come-from-behind bronze in the 1,000-meter on Feb. 20, which earned him his seventh medal, surpassing Bonnie Blair’s previous record of six career medals. Smiling broadly, Ohno said, “We’ve left no stone unturned in my preparation and there really is no better feeling in the world than knowing I came 100 percent all that I can be I have no regrets.”

But how exactly did Ohno prepare for the Games to achieve such amazing results? By getting lean, getting disciplined and getting smart, says Ohno’s longtime trainer John Schaeffer, a fitness expert and nutritionist who has worked with professional boxers, mixed martial artists, football players and other athletes.

Get Lean and Get Disciplined

“Our biggest challenge was to get his weight down,” Schaeffer says. “At the beginning of this [training] cycle, he was almost 159 lbs. He’s racing right now at about 142 lbs. And we went from about 10 percent body fat to two percent. Obviously we’re going to lose a little muscle because he’s so small to begin with, but he’s stronger and faster than he’s ever been in his life at a much lighter weight.”

How did that happen? Through strict routine and discipline. Ohno invited the Pennsylvania-based Schaeffer to live with him in Park City, Utah, as they prepared for the Games. “With me being there, I cooked all his meals,” Schaeffer says, “and I still do, even here. I kind of took care of everything because all I wanted him to do was train. I said, ‘Apolo, when I come out, we’re going to set this up just like I do a professional fight camp,’ so we set up a structure.”

In other words, “at 5 o’clock, phone’s off, computer’s off,” Schaeffer says. “We’d spend an hour studying tapes of competition. We had quiet time, where it was just relaxation. We had bedtime, therapy time, we just structured everything to a tee, and then we had goals we had to reach weight-wise every week.”

Train and Eat Efficiently

Ohno would start to lose about a pound a week. “We were doing not only lifting, dry-land training and pliometrics, but we were also doing treadmill intervals,” Schaeffer says. “We logged about 800-900 miles on interval training on a treadmill. That built his anaerobic endurance.”

For his dietary intake, “I modified that on a day-by-day, workout-to-workout, meal-by-meal basis,” Schaeffer says. “As I saw what was going on with him on a three-hour basis, I adjusted his menu and training constantly. Every nutrient he consumed had to have a function and a role. According to his energy expenditures, we modified his diet. According to his recovery needs, we modified his diet.”

But you don’t have to sacrifice taste. “If you talk to Apolo, he’ll tell you the meals I make are actually pleasant!” Schaeffer says. “I use spices, most of our protein sources came predominantly from wild salmon and fishes like that, we’d incorporate organic chicken but not much. We usually stayed with fish because the essential fatty acids are so much better in fish than chicken. When we consumed eggs, we consumed the whole egg rather than just the egg whites. The other things consisted of predominantly vegetables and fruits.”

Racing and Dancing Are Two Different Things

Dancing with the Stars was a huge thing for him,” Schaeffer admits of the time Ohno spent to become a mirror ball trophy winner in 2007. “I tried to keep him in shape but to be honest, we train so intense and so structured, when he went on the show, he really got out of shape! People think, well, you’ve got to get in really good shape to dance,’ but they don’t realize that the level these guys train, right now, he may be the best-conditioned person on the planet. But he actually developed a little excess body fat from being on Dancing with the Stars.”

Ohno agrees. With his performances on DWTS, “It’s more how you carry yourself and owning a certain routine, whether you feel good or not,” Ohno says. “I think that can help translate quite a bit into short track. But the physical aspect, there is not really much that transfers over, unfortunately!”