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'LA Angels' Shohei Ohtani gives everything to baseball, even off the field': dietician

Registered dietitian Kei Omae who supports the nutrition intake of the Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani, is seen in this photo taken on May 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Takumi Hosoya)

TOKYO -- At 193 centimeters and 95 kilograms, the Los Angeles Angels' 27-year-old superstar Shohei Ohtani stands out, even among brawny MLB players. How has Ohtani built up the physical strength that has allowed him to be compared to Babe Ruth, another two-way player and a baseball legend? From the registered dietician who has supported Ohtani through nutrition, we become privy to the Ohtani who confronts baseball squarely even off the field.

    Since 2015, when Ohtani was playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, he has had a contract with food manufacturer Meiji Co., which owns the protein brand Savas, and the company has provided Ohtani with support on the food and nutrition front. Meiji's Kei Omae, a registered dietitian, has overseen Ohtani's diet since 2016. Looking back on that time she says, "We gathered various information, and tried out different ways of taking meals that complemented his training regimen."

    Following his spectacular record in 2014, Ohtani posted 10 wins and 22 home runs in 2016, marking his second "double-digit home runs and double-digit wins." Around this time, Omae remembers that Ohtani asked her, "What do you think about the ketosis diet?" "If it had been another player the question would probably have been, 'What is the ketosis diet?'" she says. It was not uncommon, Omae adds, to get questions from Ohtani -- always curious and inquisitive -- that were ahead of the times.

    For athletes, appropriate nutritional support is crucial for building their bodies and improving performance. Omae, who has worked with many athletes throughout her career, says, "It's not that Mr. Ohtani is a particularly special case." But at the same time, she felt that certain aspects of him were different from other athletes with whom she's worked. That's his drive to always seek evolution.

    There was a time last season when Ohtani was taking seven meals a day, including supplements. When she asked him why, he apparently said, "There are no precedents of people like me in the majors. Since there aren't any training or eating model cases for me to follow, I'm trying out various things on myself."

    Omae says, "You need courage to change things up in the midst of a season, but (Ohtani is) always searching for ways to evolve even a little bit." The way Ohtani combs through information and proactively tries things out to grow allowed his two-way playing style -- which some questioned at first -- to flourish on the world stage.

    There are many other episodes that exhibit the great awareness Ohtani has toward nutrition and training. Since he was a young player in Japan, he would sometimes turn down invitations to go out for meals with senior players and train instead. Omae says that in 2018, Ohtani's first year in MLB, a senior executive at the Angels said to her that the team could prepare Japanese food for him if he wanted, and to let them know what he preferred. But Ohtani apparently answered, "I've studied nutritional science and how to eat so that I could go anywhere in the world and would not run into any problems (with food). They don't need to do anything special for me."

    Thus, Ohtani has a voracious appetite for more than just baseball, which led to his exponential growth. There are surely many children who look up to him. Says Omae, "I think that the notion that Japanese people can't do great things abroad has been dispelled. Of course, Ohtani has the advantage of being tall, but he was very thin at first. If you train right and get the right nutrition, you can hold your own among foreign players. I think you can say that as long as you make the effort, there's nothing you can't achieve."

    (Japanese original by Takumi Hosoya, Sports News Department)

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