Building a Strong Foundation (using Diet)

Written by Peter Shaw

In 2002 Coach Greg Glassman wrote his famous CrossFit Journal article “What Is Fitness?”  The article provides us with the information needed to define fitness and therefore allows us to set out on our journey with goals in place and ways to measure our success along the way.  But for many people who read this article, there is a very important piece of information that gets lost in the excitement.  That is the importance of proper nutrition. 

When people think of CrossFit, and when people who do CrossFit think of fitness, what comes to mind are the flashy workouts and the application of the programming methodology.  This is nobody’s fault.  It’s the nature of the beast!  CrossFit in its application is insanely fun and addictive, which is what helps make it successful.  However, when it comes to “forging elite fitness” and health, CrossFit is nothing without nutrition. 

Although Coach Glassman highlighted the importance of nutrition in his article, it is glossed over by many.  It’s not that the ideas about nutrition are completely disregarded, but maybe the rest of the article is so exciting that it simply casts a shadow.  Regardless of the reason, it seems that many CrossFit gyms struggle with bringing sound nutritional concepts to their members.  The ideas are easy to talk about but difficult to implement.

If we are to bring nutrition into our daily conversations at the box, we should start with an examination.  Let's highlight two often overlooked pieces in Coach Glassman’s article “What is Fitness?”


Idea 1: The theoretical hierarchy of the development of an athlete

The BASE of the pyramid is nutrition.  This idea was proposed by  Coach Glassman as the support system that nature imposes on us.  We begin at the base with the molecular make up of our bodies and we arrive at the top with the expression of our fitness.  In application, the ordering seems to start with the least fun at the base and finish with the most fun at the top.  

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This is no coincidence!  More often than not, the fun things in life must be earned with hard work.  The struggle is what makes the cherry on top so enjoyable and so sweet!  It is also the reason that people look for shortcuts to success.  While shortcuts may lead to short term success, they are almost never sustainable.

The purpose of the pyramid is to illustrate the importance of building a strong foundation.  Without a sturdy base, we cannot build upon our fitness.  The peak of the pyramid will only reach as high as its base is wide.  Therefore, when we find ourselves looking for answers to questions about how to improve our fitness, we must start with nutrition.


Idea 2: Fitness In 100 Words

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.  Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.  Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch.  Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds.  Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast.  Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow.  Routine is the enemy.  Keep workouts short and intense.  Regularly learn and play new sports.

This mantra was written by Coach Greg Glassman to help summarize his longer article, “What is Fitness?”  There are many ideas and thoughts that this paragraph encourages, however no observation may be as significant as this one:  The paragraph begins with an idea about diet.  The prescription is “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.”  As Coach Glassman would say, it’s simple but it's hard.  The nature of a constantly varied program provides us with a new stimulus daily to keep our bodies able and our minds interested.  It’s up to us to bring the same practice into the kitchen.  Instead of barbells we have pans, instead of a rig we have a stove, and instead of a clock and weights we have measuring cups and scales.  Just as we program our workouts, we must program our meals!

When I say you need to program your meals, I’m simply highlighting the need to plan ahead.  A good diet starts with one decision to eat a healthy meal and, over time, many good decisions form the habit.  A “perfect” diet should never be the goal.  Instead, understanding that perfection is a far off destination and creating small meaningful change day-to-day in its pursuit is what’s more important.

We must also embrace the fact that food is not just fuel.  However much we tell ourselves that it is, it isn’t.  It is woven into our culture as a human race.  Food is connected to our emotional well being on so many levels.  We eat food to comfort ourselves, we eat it to forge lasting friendships, we eat it to celebrate.  If we accept food for what it is beyond fuel, we can truly begin to take steps toward creating a culture of healthy eating.  

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In his book The Diet Fix, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff talks of the importance of adherence.  Trying to be overly strict when following diets like Palaeolithic or Ketogenic can be detrimental long term because they are an unrealistic fit for most people’s lifestyle.  Most people following these diets end up failing not because they don’t work, but because they hate themselves for not adhering to the impossible standard.  He stresses a practical approach for each individual to weave healthy decisions about food into their unique lifestyle.  I can’t help believe that Dr. Freedhoff's idea about lifestyle, combined with Coach Glassman’s basic nutritional prescription, is the answer for 98 percent of the population.

Let this article serve as a catalyst for conversation surrounding these ideas about nutrition.  Let it serve as a starting point to brainstorm about how to implement nutritional strategies in the CrossFit box.  Let it serve as a reminder that we are only as fit and healthy as our foundation.


Peter Shaw is a Co-Owner and Coach at CrossFit NCR in Ottawa, Ontario, a Certified CrossFit Trainer (CF-L3), and spends his weekends inspiring others as a part of CrossFit HQ Seminar Staff.



“What Is Fitness?” Greg Glassman — 

“The Diet Fix” Dr. Yoni Freedhoff