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Eight-time Olympic medalist-turned-Dancing with the Stars champ Apolo Ohno’s commitment to fitness has spanned decades and competitive arenas. In 2002, at age 19, the iconic U.S. short track speed skater blazed to his first Olympic gold. Twelve years later, the most decorated American Winter Olympian impressed the triathlete world by completing his first Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in less than 10 hours—with only six months of training.
But few may realize how much nutrition and a properly fed, razor-sharp mind have powered his successes as an athlete. “Nutrition is everything,” says the Seattle native, 34. “It’s life. It’s a part of how we eat, a part of culture, a part of environment.”
For Ohno, mind-body nourishment still gives him an edge in all of life’s challenges. “I’m six years outside of Olympic competitive sport, and I value my health tremendously—more so than anything else,” he says. “And that’s the byproduct of being able to perform at the highest level for so many years, and then stepping away from that atmosphere and now having to perform at a high level outside of the ice rink while still wanting to have the same components of feel-good physiology.”
How does food nourish your mind and body?
I’m very happy to be living in Los Angeles, where we have access to some of the best fruits and vegetables and organic produce. I enjoy a diet that’s rich in antioxidants. I eat a lot of fish. I am a foodie. I’ve always loved food. I travel all around the world for business and for pleasure, and one of the easiest ways to experience a community or culture is by breaking bread with those people.
So nutrition has given you food for thought—and fuel for performance?
Absolutely. Nutrition has played a huge role in my career. It allows me to do what I consider kind of the impossible, kind of reversing the aging time and becoming stronger and more powerful, recovering better with age and keeping my body elastic, healthy, youthful. I’m nowhere as lean or as ripped or as shredded as I was when I was competing—which I don’t expect to be—but I believe that my mind and my body are fueled properly.
How important is nourishing your mind?
My mind was my greatest asset in my entire career as an athlete. There were many athletes who were more talented, faster, stronger, and had better skill sets—but I would be able to overcome a lot of that simply by utilizing the main and most incredible asset of all, which is my brain. Feeding the brain properly to make sure it had the right type of adaptogenic property so that during my training I was able to lower my stress and increase the rate of recovery—all of this was crucial.
What types of brain health issues do you think can be helped through supplement use?
Mood, mental fatigue, mental agility, anxiety and stress, alertness and reaction time, fluid intelligence, depression, working memory, and social functioning.
What supplements do you take for brain health?
I believe in the power of adaptogens such as ashwagandha, American ginseng, and rhodiola. These herbs help your body adapt to stressors, allowing you to enhance your memory, promote relaxation, and relieve stress dramatically.