Just how much would you give to be crowned the fittest man or woman on earth? Would you train everyday, for three to four hours at a time? Would you eat clean all the time? Would you make working out your full time job?
Mat Fraser knows the kind of drive and will-power it takes to be named The Fittest Man on Earth … twice. Fraser was a former Olympic Lifter, but had a severe back injury that caused him to retire from his weightlifting career in 2011.1 Once he fully recovered in 2012, he began training for the CrossFit Games – a worldwide wide competition that attempts to find the world’s fittest men and women – and made his debut in 2014. In the summer of 2014, Mat Fraser had an engineering internship at an aerospace company. Although he was working full-time at his internship, he still made time to train for a couple of hours a day, and in 2014, Fraser was named “Rookie of the Year” when he won second place in the worldwide Reebok CrossFit Games.2 Although Fraser was the newcomer of the year, he definitely grabbed the attention of many as he was in the lead for many of his regional workouts and kept up with other known CrossFitters that year.
His humble attitude and willingness to cooperate with the media shortly after his second-place victory made him become a well-known name in the CrossFit community and a pillar character to represent the sport. As the Games came to an end, Fraser, instead of saying he was going to celebrate his second-place victory or take a break, immediately stated that he would be going straight back to the gym and would begin working even harder for next year’s Games. But what exactly is CrossFit? What is this sport that people all around the world compete in to be known as the fittest man/woman on earth?
CrossFit is fitness regime designed initially as an exercise program to promote functional fitness.3 However, in recent years, CrossFit has become one of the biggest fitness trends of the twenty-first century. CrossFit was officially established in 2000 and it had a very slow start, but now, CrossFit boasts over 6,500 athletes just in the United States.4 In the first five years, CrossFit Inc. grew to a mere 500 affiliates; however, by 2013, it was growing at a rate of 1,000 affiliates per month and by June 24, 2014, CrossFit Inc. hit 10,000 CrossFit affiliates worldwide. Even well known fitness franchises like Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness cannot compete with the amount of affiliates CrossFit Inc. has. As of 2014, Planet Fitness only had 827 locations worldwide and Anytime Fitness only had about 2,700 locations around the world.5
CrossFit was officially established as a corporate entity in 2000 by former gymnast Greg Glassman and his then wife, Lauren Jenai.6 However, Glassman had been using the term “CrossFit” several year prior to the official establishment of the term CrossFit. Glassman created his idea of CrossFit because he felt as though his regular workout regimes were not enough for him–Glassman felt as though he was not gaining enough muscle and that he was not training as hard as he knew he could.7 So Glassman began programming his own workouts that could give him a performance advantage over other athletes and that would push his body to new limits. In his pursuit of finding a more intense workout regime, he developed a range of new workout routines that entail “constantly varied functional movement, executed high intensity, across broad time and modal domains.”8
While some athletes prefer to strengthen in only certain areas, such as speed or weightlifting, the CrossFit goal is to produce and improve human physical power and fitness by mastering ten skills.9 The ten skills that CrossFit aims to improve, according to Glassman, are as follows: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.10 The many components that CrossFit puts into creating elite fitness create world-renowned athletes because athletes are able to use all components of their body (balance, flexibility, stamina, strength, etc.) to perform to the best of their abilities and usually out-performing most average athletes. CrossFit also defines fitness as not only a physical issue, but also as a health issue. As CrossFit’s original slogan is “forging elite fitness,” the average athlete cannot be elite by just being at a gym–he or she must encompass their entire body, skill-related and health-related, to become an elite athlete.11 For this extensive definition, CrossFit has captivated more people than any fitness corporation the world has ever seen before.
It was not until Fraser’s first couple of athlete briefings, when Fraser began to notice that he wasn’t much different from the CrossFit athletes he was competing against. Even though it was his first time competing, he began to think: “Huh, you’re my size … and I kind of look at my quad next to theirs like, oh, our legs are the same size. You’re not like this superhero everyone has on a pedestal. Hm, okay, maybe I can compare with you,” and he began to feel like maybe he could compete with these big-name CrossFit athletes.12 Although it was his first year and he was the rookie, he held up very well. Getting second place after only having trained for two years in worldwide competition is something to be extremely proud of.
It was in 2015, after he placed second for the second year in a row, that Fraser became known for his hatred of 2nd place.13 Once again, Mat Fraser came in second place; but this time he was not as pleased with the results. Knowing that he was already able to achieve the second place status the year prior, he knew that he could have done better.14 Fraser states that in 2014, he felt as though he had won that second place spot and he was proud of himself for working that hard.15 However, in 2015, the feeling was totally opposite. Fraser felt as though he lost and got second place in 2015. He felt as though he was in the exact same place that he had been in the year prior, because he ultimately was. This feeling of losing, of not doing his best, caused him to really focus on the upcoming year.
Fraser was no longer in school in 2016 and was committed to being a full-time CrossFit athlete for the 2016 CrossFit Games.16 Fraser notes that the biggest game changer for his training was not the extra time he was putting in at the gym (although, it was a big factor), but rather that it was the work that he was putting in outside the gym.
Every athlete knows that you can’t be great if you eat junk food and fast food all the time. However, when Fraser went into his first competition in 2014, he was a college student who couldn’t afford to count macros, calories, or protein and definitely didn’t have the time to be trying new diets like Paleo or Ketogenic diets. Fraser states that in college, he would eat Chinese food from a food truck behind the library five days a week or he would grab pizza if he was there late.17 Needless to say, Fraser was a college student doing the impossible. Even when 2015 came around, Fraser did not feel the need to change his eating habits or his diet. He simply believed that he trained too much to worry about what he was eating; he thought that he could out-train a bad diet.18 However, Mat Fraser would soon come to find that you cannot simply just out-train a bad diet.
Although Fraser does not follow a specific diet like the Paleo or Ketogenic diets, and he does not count his macros, he still sticks to eating clean. After falling short of first place again in 2015, Fraser decided that he needed to be eating natural foods and a lot of fruits and vegetables. Fraser uses the company Paleo Naturals to send him pre-made meals that fit his diet, body type, and fitness goals. Most professional athletes order pre-made meals from companies because it is less timely than having to count macros, count calories, look at ingredients, and calculate what the best plan is for your body type and your fitness goals. Fraser uses Paleo Natural for the ease of their meals; he likes that all he has to do is microwave a meal and it’s ready.19 Of course, Fraser also uses supplements like protein powder, creatine powder, glutamine, and things like that; some to help rebuild and repair his muscles, others before the gym to give him a boost of energy for his workouts.20
Paleo and Ketogenic diets are two of the more common diets that athletes–especially CrossFit athletes–use as their diets to stay on track. Both Paleo and Ketogenic diets are made to have low carbs, but also to help the body burn fat more efficiently. While both have similar end goals and seem to reap the same kinds of benefits, the lifestyles of each diet are very different.21
Paleo comes from the word Paleolithic, which translates to “Old Stone Age.” The Paleo diet is meant to cut out any form of processed food products because the human digestive system is not meant for the modern day diet. The modern day diet causes an ample amount of health issues such as type 2 diabetes and depression.22 The meaning of a Paleo lifestyle is to eat like cavemen—or like our early ancestors did before civilization happened and farming and herding of animals became common.23 The Paleo lifestyle advocates the intake of lean, non-domesticated meats and non-cereal plant-based foods like fruits, roots, legumes, and nuts. In the Paleo diet, it is recommended that 30%-35% of your daily intake on calories come from lean proteins such as the aforementioned meat. Also, in this diet, animals raised on grain-based feed cannot be eaten. The goal of the Paleo diet is to essentially cut out as many carbohydrates as possible and focus ones caloric intake through protein and vegetables. Even cutting out grain-fed animals is an essential part of this diet.24
The Ketogenic lifestyle is to follow a low-carb, very high-fat (LCHF) diet.25 The Ketogenic diet is even being used in diabetic and obese individuals to help with their health issues. The daily caloric intake for the Ketogenic diet is 80% fat, 5% carbohydrates, and 15% protein.26 This is where the Paleo lifestyle and Ketogenic lifestyle really differ. The goal of the Ketogenic diet is to switch individuals from a glucose-metabolism to a fat-metabolism so that the body will be using ketone bodies (i.e. compounds produced during the metabolism of fats) for energy, therefore using the same amount of energy the individual was using before but burning more fat.27 To do this, the body must have a high fat content (i.e. a diet that is high in fat) so that the body can burn fat efficiently instead of getting its energy from a glucose-metabolism.28
The Paleo and Ketogenic diets have certain similarities in that they both emphasize no grains, no legumes, emphasis on increasing fat intake, encourage eating animal protein, no refined sugars or refined carbohydrates, no caloric or portion restriction, include (non-starchy) vegetables, and moderation of protein intake. However there are more major differences than there are slight similarities.29
The main difference in the Paleo diet and the Ketogenic diet is that the Paleo diet is not necessarily low in carbohydrates and high in fats like the Ketogenic diet is.30 The Paleo diet is more focused on the origins of the food and eating non-processed foods, while the Ketogenic diet is more focused on eating an excess amount of fat to use as energy (i.e. a fat metabolism) so that the body burns more fat and gains more energy while doing the same kind of routine as a glucose-metabolism.31
Finally, in 2016, it was Mat Fraser’s year. He had done everything he could in his day to day life and trained harder than he ever had before. His favorite line, when he feels like giving up in workout or while training, is: “I’m going to today what other people aren’t willing to so that I can do tomorrow what other people can’t,” and he says that it helps push him through a workout when he feels like he can’t push anymore.32 Mat Fraser began spending hours at the gym; training, stretching, lifting—doing whatever it would take to get him through the 2016 Crossfit Games on top. Fraser explains the feeling of a competition as big as the Crossfit Games, the fear that consumes his body when they coral all the athletes together. When the athletes are given their ten-minute notice, that’s when Fraser starts to feel the fear of competition running through his body. He states that in those ten minutes before the workout starts, he usually dry heaves or pukes from the nerves and anticipation of the workout he is about to do because he knows that the workout he is about to do is going to hurt—that he is about to push his body to new levels of pain.33 Fraser also explains the fear that he gets when he walks onto that competition floor thinking, “all these guys are more capable than me,” thinking that he could end up at the bottom with one simple mistake.34 He talks about how all of the guys competing next to him have trained all year to win, that no one goes to that competition trying to win second place: everyone is fighting for first place.35
And although Fraser’s description of his fear and nerves is brutal and intense, he states that he hopes that it never goes away. He knows that the fear of not being good enough is what pushes him to be good enough.36
In his 2016 victory, Mat Fraser explains the feeling. He goes into detail about how he felt like he actually worked for that first place. Fraser says that if he had won first place in 2014, he would not have cared so much about any of the Games after that. Fraser says that the reason getting first place at the 2016 CrossFit Games and winning the title “The Fittest Man on Earth” was such a big deal for him was because he felt as though he had really worked for that title—he felt as though he earned it.37
The CrossFit Games are broken up into three segments: the Open, Regionals, and Finals. The CrossFit Open is a set of workouts that are announced every Thursday evening for five weeks in the month of March.38 Within those five weeks, CrossFit athletes from all around the world, amateur and professional, compete against each other in sets of workouts. Many CrossFit affiliates get together on Friday nights and compete against the people at their gym to see where they stand. For most, the Open is a benchmark to see where you stand compared to athletes all around the world and to see how you have improved since previous years. For some though, the Open is the time to work hard and make it to the next qualifying round: Regionals.39
The top athletes from each of the eighteen worldwide regions qualify for Regionals. The Regionals are live, three-day competitions that are held from May through June. Top athletes compete against each other at one of the nine Regionals and try to earn a qualifying spot in the CrossFit Final Games.40 For the Final Games, there are a select number of spots for men, women, and teams. Each of these hold forty slots for the best athletes around the world.41 Each Region (North America, Europe, and Australia) will send their top five athletes from each division except for the Meridian Regional, who sends four, and Latin America, who sends one from each division.42
The CrossFit Games are hosted by Reebok, and in their search for the fittest man/woman on earth, they state: “A key element to a fair test of fitness is the unknown and unknowable. Athletes cannot train for what they do not know. At each CrossFit Game, the athletes engage in a series of challenges unknown to them until right before the competition. The combination of highly trained athletes and unknown events makes for an explosive mix.”43
Mat Fraser went back to the Crossfit Games in 2017 and won first place that year as well.44 Currently, Mat Fraser still dedicates his life to CrossFit and when asked if he still trains as hard as he once did, Fraser’s response is as simple as “yes.” Fraser still trains every day and eats as healthy as he can (or wants) to continue training to the best of his abilities. Fraser explains how when he left Olympic Lifting, he was very angry and resentful that he had to stop doing what he loved and that he felt that it put a strain on a lot of long term friendships; so when he was asked about when he thinks that he will retire from CrossFit, he responded that he was not ready to retire yet, but that when he did, he wants to be in a good place and he wants to be happy about retiring.45 It is easy to see that Fraser is very passionate about Crossfit and he pushes himself to do his best even when he is just training at his gym.
Mat Fraser could be named the “Fittest Man on Earth” for the third year in a row. As the Regionals are beginning to take place in May 2018, it is only imaginable that Fraser is training hard and preparing for a possible three-year win. Fraser’s undeniable talent and drive to be the best has gotten him be where he is now, and it is obvious to see that he is not ready to stop yet. Mat Fraser, the Fittest Man on Earth, is a force to be reckoned with.
What do you do when nobody is watching?