C.C. Sabathia strolled into this spring training looking thinner than ever, inspiring another wave of headlines about his dramatic weight loss. After three offseasons of gradual alterations to his training and eating habits, Sabathia had finally fully transformed his formerly hefty load of fat into lean muscle. "The main concern with CC was, 'How is he going to last throughout his career?'" says Sabathia's trainer T.J. Lopez, who spent months answering that very question.
Starting in the 2011 offseason for three to four times a week, Lopez implemented cardio exercises: mountain climbers, high knees, medicine ball slams, battle ropes, and punching drills used by MMA fighters. Sabathia began with metabolic conditions circuits with a 1:1 ratio of exercise to rest and did his exercises in sets of 10. Eventually, Sabathia increased his ratio to 3:1 and sets to 25. "We didn’t want to do the long distance running that is common with fat-loss programs," explains Lopez. "We're getting away from that as an industry because we're realizing that you do lose muscle mass when you do that type of long term, long distance training because you're recruiting a slow twitch muscle fiber as opposed to a fast twitch. So when we do those high intensity exercises those are the things that are going to keep the muscle and help you burn the fat and raise the metabolism level."
Sabathia had previously worked with Chef Cheo Garabito, who tweaked his diet, asking him to lay off the Cap’n Crunch and go heavy on lean proteins like chicken breasts and fish. But Sabathia wanted wholesale change. He brought on Chef J Maxwell, who began Sabathia’s offseason with a weeklong juice cleanse. In the two months after that, Maxwell only allowed Sabathia to drink water and made him meals without any carbs, doubling up on the portions of vegetables and offering snacks like parfait and raw almonds. As the season got closer, the pitcher incorporate carbs back into his routine and spent quite a few meals enjoying Maxwell’s “baked fried chicken.”
After a hamstring injury ended a disappointing 2013 season, Sabathia began training just two weeks into October – most baseball players wait until after Thanksgiving—and told Lopez that for the first time in years he did not want to shed weight. "This offseason, let’s put on some muscle," he told Lopez. Sabathia maintained his weight around 280 – 20 pounds lighter than previous season – which made transitioning into "true, old-school strength training," much easier. Lopez moved Sabathia’s workouts out of the pitcher’s home and to a better-equipped gym down the street, where Sabathia focused on squats and dead-lifts.
"He can eat whatever he wants now," Maxwell says. "His metabolism has picked up so that he's just at a moderate weight all the time. He's stronger than I think he's every been. All we have to do is really maintain."