Interview with Robert Cheeke - Founder of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness about his success story as athletic superstar, fitness model, motivational speaker, and book author
Robert Cheeke, famous for vegan bodybuilding and tireless advocacy for animal rights and cruelty-free living, talks about his journey from growing up on an animal farm to becoming one of the most successful and influential vegan athletes of our times.
Robert has won a bodybuilding competition in Oregon and has competed in many other national championships. He has been featured in more than 20 magazines and over 300 websites. He is also an acclaimed motivational speaker, fitness model, and book author, with his first book Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness released in 2009.
Robert Cheeke - Before and After
Robert has been vegan for 15 years and started his vegan bodybuilding career 9 years ago, morphing from a scrawny 120 pound child to an impressive 195 pound athletic superstar - all fueled by animal-free, vegan foods.
In 2002 he started Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness with the mission to promote the vegan, cruelty-free fitness lifestyle, and to become a living example for his motto "healthy food defines you".
I sat down with Robert to talk about the many misperceptions about veganism, nutrition, why vegan athletes have an edge over meat-eating ones, and to get his fitness advice on successful vegan bodybuilding.
Robert further shares with us how he stays in form with his daily meal plans, and reveals the upcoming release of his new exciting book "Driven - A Road Well Traveled".
What prompted you to become vegetarian and then vegan respectively? You grew up on a farm - how did that influence your decision and how did your family react?
Robert Cheeke -
lean, mean, meat-free machine
Robert: My family raised animals and showed them at county fairs, but I didn't really make the connection that these same animals would become our food.
Then in December 1995, my older sister Tanya organized an Animal Rights Week in our school, where they showed material about animal testing, factory farming, etc. She influenced me, and since I wanted to help her with the event, I became vegan right there and then, at 16 years old. I never looked back from that day on.
My parents come from an animal science background and actually promote animal businesses. At first there wasn't much understanding or support for our vegan diet. My parents were originally concerned about our health, but over the years they became more supportive. Nowadays they even promote my book and wear vegan T-shirts! They also eat more vegetarian foods now.
You started Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness in 2002. What does this company do for athletes, and do you cater solely to those who are already vegetarian or vegan?
Robert: The largest percentage of my audience at Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness is already vegan and wants to stay healthy, build muscle, gain weight, and compete. I am also reaching out to many other athletes. Leading by positive example and living meaningful is what drives me to do this.
"It is important to do something that is larger than yourself, which inspires others to come out of their shell and to find their path" - Robert Cheeke
Many historic greats like Gandhi and Martin Luther King have led by positive example, and I am trying to do my part with the best of my conscience.
Robert Cheeke and
"Vegan Brothers in Iron"
I used to associate being vegan with being skinny, scrawny, weak, and risky. This is all not true, but many people simple don't know it. I became an amateur bodybuilder and when I started my website veganbodybuilding.com, I was the only vegan athlete that I knew of. But once the website was launched, vegan athletes suddenly came from everywhere and used the website. There were so many of them already and this was fantastic!
The vegan bodybuilding website caters to everybody though. People of all lifestyles visit the site to get information, read news, and share training updates, etc., for more than four years now. Many people I spoke to became vegan after connecting with the website.
What is your mission that you want to share with Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness?
Robert: My mission with vegan bodybuilding is to reduce animal suffering and to promote the ideas of caring and compassion.
There is not enough care in people about their own health, other people, the planet, and animals. People don't believe in themselves enough to care anymore, and I just want them to make that connection with their inner selves and their environment again, and to care about the things that happen around them.
Once you open your eyes to the cruel realities that animals endure in farm factories, test labs, etc., you become more compassionate towards everything around you, and start making a difference for those who suffer. This benefits not only yourself, but also every other life you are touching.
Is there actually a vegan bodybuilding sports club where health and animal rights conscious athletes can train?
Robert: Not that I am aware of, but it's a really good idea.
I thought about it myself, it would be great to have a non-leather, non animal products club where everybody is welcome - vegan or not.
It would be an excellent project, but it needs a fair amount of capital to start.
I hope someday we could join forces with a celebrity to sponsor such an idea: a vegan, eco-friendly sports club.
Are there any differences in your performance as vegan athlete versus non-vegan athletes? Are they better or worse?
Robert Cheeke during a Competition
Robert: I definitely have more energy, an easier digestion, increased metabolism, and much reduced recovery time after workouts.
I have less inflammations, can train harder and faster, and my heart and joints are much healthier - there is really nothing negative I can think of as being a vegan athlete.
I get my proteins, calcium, and carbohydrates directly from the natural plant source, and not recycled through animal bodies, where they are used for the animals' strength and energy first.
"I truly believe that vegan athletes have an edge in performance over non-vegan athletes!"
- Robert Cheeke
Are there competitions just for vegan athletes and do you attend these?
Robert: No there aren't any that I know of, and that's a good thing!
I compete in national bodybuilding competitions and I am usually the only vegan athlete. It is important not to be isolated as vegans and do different competitions, and there is really no need for that either!
We can compete very well with non-vegans and it is crucial to create community with everyone - rather than separating ourselves.
Sometimes we have small private competitions among the vegan athletes on the web, but that's really more for fun, not serious.
What is your recommendation for health-conscious people who want to turn vegan for a more compassionate lifestyle, but are afraid of losing muscle mass or stamina?
Robert Cheeke and Rory Freedman
Robert: The most important recommendation I have for people who want to to start vegan bodybuilding and build muscle, is to continue with the same calories but simply use plant calories instead. It's OK to start overnight, as long as you have the right information about your vegan diet needs.
The biggest mistake and a common problem I see, is that people simply start avoiding animal calories, but don't replace these with proper plant calories. That's when they experience weight and muscle loss, and they feel tired.
"Vegan athletes still need the same amount of calories and nutrients for their activities as non-vegans; they just need to bulk up on plant foods instead." - Robert Cheeke
When nourished well with sufficient calories, vegan athletes will experience an increase in energy and shorter recovery times after workouts. They will feel lighter and more alert, and they will have a healthier heart, joints, and tendons.
What does your usual meal plan look like over the course of a day? And of course, many people still want to know where you get your protein with vegan bodybuilding?
Robert Cheeke and his Book
Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness
Robert: My book Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness has over 50 different meal options including tons of vegan protein, depending on whether you compete, train, rest, etc. There is no one typical daily regimen that I follow, but I can give you an example what I may eat in the course of a day, assuming that I workout 2-3 times that day:
- As first food in the morning I have fresh fruit, which I love. This could be an apple or grapes.
- Then I will have a Vega protein smoothie and energy bar.
- Later in the morning I might have oatmeal or scrambled tofu, followed by another fruit and Vega protein shake.
- I have a larger lunch such as a vegan burrito, sandwich wrap, or a quinoa, rice, tempeh, or bean dish - all great vegan protein sources.
- In the afternoon another energy bar, protein drink, and fruit follows.
- Then, post workout, I will have a protein drink and a big salad with avocados, nuts and seeds, or a vegan sushi roll, rice, burrito, or sandwich.
- For dinner I love ethnic food such as Thai or Indian. You can always ask that these are made vegan, like a curry with vegetables and rice, or a vegan pizza, etc.
- Just before bed time I have another fruit, preferably citrus fruit, and an energy bar.
Robert Cheeke about Gaining Weight on the Vegan Diet
and how he gets his Vegan Protein.
As you can see I eat a lot, but I work out 2-3 times a day and need a lot of calories. I don't cook and I have a really busy life, so all of my food is fast, easy, and often on the go. Whole Foods and other health food stores can be found almost everywhere now and make it very easy to be a busy, healthy, well-nourished vegan athlete.
Can you give your fitness advice and the most important tips that you recommend as kick-start for vegan bodybuilding?
Robert Cheeke in Pose
Robert: The most important thing in vegan bodybuilding is that you are honest to yourself, don't cheat! I had people tell me that the vegan diet does not work for them, but at a closer look they did not stick to the plan or had no definitive goals. It is key to be accountable and consistent with your goals.
Eat real food, not just supplements! Make good choices and be very clear about your objectives. Don't make excuses and don't become an unhealthy vegan. Be very specific about what you want to attain, and write down your goals.
Keep a journal for your nutrition and training - the forum at veganbodybuilding.com has a section you can use for that.
Find someone as a role model who you can look up to and follow. Keep track of what they are doing. You can look at my website Robert Cheeke or Brendan Brazier's website and his Thrive Diet for more vegan bodybuilding tips.
So, be honest to yourself, make a good plan, and eat real food!
What supplements do you use and recommend for vegan bodybuilding?
Robert: As you may know I am an ambassador for Vega, which creates fantastic raw, whole-food, alkaline nutrition products with a focus on high nutrient density for exercise recovery and for overall health.
I love their smoothies and energy bars, but I also like energy bars from Probar, Larabar, Clif Bar, and other organic fruit bars.
I should mention that you really don't have to use supplements to build muscle and gain weight for competition as vegan bodybuilder, but they are a shortcut to accomplish that.
These supplements must however never replace good real food, just support it!
You have traveled to many countries. How do you compare the vegan awareness between the US and elsewhere?
Robert: The US is pretty far ahead when it comes to veganism with cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Washington DC, and NYC actively leading the way.
Other countries like the UK, Germany, Australia are also very strong and supportive of veganism.
With that said, it does not matter where you live in the world, you will ALWAYS find vegan food and you can find vegan bodybuilding companions everywhere.
Don't rely on restaurants that may not offer anything in your area, but instead find the next farmer's market or any street merchant who sells fruits, vegetables, and grains in bulk.
What is your new book about and when will it be available?
Robert Cheeke on the
Frontpage of Real Gainz
Robert: The new book I'm writing is called "Driven - The Road Well Traveled"
It is a collection of motivational and inspirational stories from my 20-year drive to become an author. It features stories from my life on the road to becoming a best-selling author (something I seek to achieve by next year).
This book is about pursuing your passion. It talks about personal development, passion, and work ethic.
"Driven - The Road Well Traveled" will also list some ups and downs in my life, in vegan bodybuilding, and how I approached them. It is authentic, genuine, and transparent. This new book will be released in summer 2011.
Get your copy of Robert's current book Vegan Bodybuilding here:
"Work hard for yourself and if it means enough to you, it CAN and WILL happen!"
- Robert Cheeke
Robert's plans for vegan bodybuilding and other projects as of June 2011:
Robert has moved back to Los Angeles in sunny California and can often be found in Gold's Gym Venice for some vegan bodybuilding and training.
Robert is also now promoting the movie Forks over Knives as marketing associate.
This is the single most important movie that everyone should see - vegan or not. Forks over Knives can literally save lives and has already proven to have a major impact on people and how they choose to prevent or reverse diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and more.
Robert is also still promoting his excellent book Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, which has received some rave reviews.
How to reach Robert Cheeke:
You can write to him on facebook or twitter to get the latest dates and updates, or contact him from his website Vegan Bodybuilding.
When Robert doesn't compete in bodybuilding competitions or travel the world to speak about the vegan bodybuilding & fitness lifestyle, you can find this strong man with the compassionate heart writing for his book, and appearing in interviews and educational videos all over the web.
Robert Cheeke is truly one of a kind, and an inspiration for young bodybuilders and many others who want to combine their compassionate lifestyle with unparalleled fitness, health, and energy!
I look forward to welcoming Robert in Las Vegas for a motivational speech about vegan bodybuilding sometime
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