“A few years ago, I changed my viewpoint on a number of popular and controversial topics, including protein consumption, supplement use, and my overall views about the sport of bodybuilding.”
Robert Cheeke is responsible for creating one of the first plant-based fitness websites in history, and has over 20 years experience as a vegan athlete. It’s pioneers like him that have made it possible for bodybuilders, athletes, and gym rats like me to wake up to a healthier path of fitness.
Robert and I agree almost entirely on the topic of bodybuilding nutrition.
We both believe that a supplement-free, whole-food, plant-based diet is optimal.
The only difference between in our philosophies is that he advocates a low-protein diet across the board.
“Whereas, I think some individuals may need more protein based on genetics, fitness goals, etc.”
That said, I try to stay open and remain willing to learn more.
Hell, I used to think that eating exuberant amounts of meat was the only path to packing on muscle and now I own a website called VegetarianBodybuilding.com.
It’s nice knowing that a guy like Robert is traveling the globe, spreading the good word about our lifestyle, and bringing us together.
Our tribe is much stronger because of him without question. I also share and respect his belief in consistency and creating positive habits.
You will certainly have an opportunity to learn a lot from him in this interview!
Q: What does your morning ritual look like (first 30-60 minutes)?
When I wake up, I cuddle with my little Chihuahua, Benny, for a few minutes before using the bathroom and brushing my teeth. I then check my email, Facebook, and Twitter from my phone as I wake myself up. Once I’m up, I take Benny out for a walk and then make my way to the kitchen for some fruit.
I usually grab a handful of bananas and a bottle of yerba mate or glass of water, and fire up my laptop and start working for the day. My girlfriend, Karen, makes a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and walnuts and checks for book and clothing orders that came in during the night to prepare packages to be shipped out.
I sign books if necessary and then settle into social media work, promoting my Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness brand from my laptop in my home office. That covers my first hour upon waking.
Q: What key rituals/practices do you try to maintain at all costs, even while you travel?
One of the rituals I am very proud of is my daily commitment to completing more than 100 push-ups and crunches per day. I have not missed a day performing at least 100 of each since August 16, 2013. I average about 145 push-ups and 285 crunches completed per day.
“Regardless of where I am, what time zone or country, I do these exercises every single day. I believe in consistency and creating positive habits, and this is my longest-running current daily practice.”
Q: Who were/are your mentors in life? Tell us about them and why.
When I look back at my mentors over the years, the people who stand out are my high school psychology of success teacher, Eric Dazey; my high school soccer coach, Jon Bullock; America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine; my older sister, Tanya; and most recently, Dr. T. Colin Campbell.
Mr. Dazey helped me create formulas for success, and his leadership transformed my academic performance during an important time in my life, when I was a freshman in high school struggling to adjust academically.
I just bumped into Mr. Dazey in my hometown in July 2015, and it was one of the highlights of my summer.
“Coach Bullock taught me to demand excellence and work hard to achieve meaningful goals. He challenged me to become a leader on my team and in my community.”
I just saw him in a TEDx video a couple of weeks ago, giving a motivational speech about creating a compassionate world. I’m proud to call him a friend and mentor.
“Prefontaine showed me what the human body is capable of when you give everything you have to your sport and follow your passion fully.”
Steve “Pre” Prefontaine was the athlete I looked up to above all others. He died before I was born, but his legacy impacted me more than anyone else and shaped the way I would approach my own athletic performance for the rest of my life – with reckless abandon and disciplined hard work.
My older sister, Tanya, introduced me to the vegan lifestyle back in 1995 and has been a continual role model for me ever since. It was her leadership that changed my life forever and influenced the paths I would take and dreams I would pursue.
Lately, Dr. T. Colin Campbell has been one of my greatest role models, impacting the way I look at food, health, and the intellectual honesty that is part of a public discussion I now have about the whole-food, plant-based lifestyle.
I am honored to be an annual featured speaker on the Holistic Holiday at Sea Vegan-friendly Cruise with Dr. Campbell and other leaders.
Q: What is something you believe in that other people usually think is crazy/different (besides vegan-related topics)?
One thing that is a little different about me is that I still write handwritten thank you cards on a regular basis.
When I offer online contests, giveaways, and incentive prizes, I include a handwritten thank you card with each package I ship out. I sent out more than 500 personal thank you cards in 2014.
I leave handwritten thank you notes for the cleaning staff in motels and hotels, along with a cash tip, and I even include thank you cards when I pay bills via check in the mail. I feel like handwritten notes are a lost art these days, but it is something I enjoy doing.
“Based on the feedback I’ve received over the years, the thank you cards are greatly appreciated by the recipients, and it brings a smile to their face and joy to their day. That’s ultimately why I do it.”
Q: What have you changed your mind about in the past 10 years?
A few years ago, I changed my viewpoint on a number of popular and controversial topics, including protein consumption, supplement use, and my overall views about the sport of bodybuilding.
For many years, I was an advocate and promoter of a high-protein diet. I believed it was necessary for muscle growth and synonymous with the sport of bodybuilding.
In 2012, I took Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s Plant-Based Nutrition Certification Course through Cornell University, and based on what I learned, I adopted a relatively low-protein diet. As a result of that course, I also decided to give up use of all supplements aside from vitamin B12.
My views of the mainstream sport of bodybuilding had been waning for years, and the obsession with animal-based supplements among the mainstream bodybuilding community was another turnoff.
As a result, I became a lesser fan of the sport of bodybuilding than I had been for years.
“I appreciate the art of weight training and building one’s physique and all the hard work that goes into it, but supporting mainstream competitive bodybuilding is becoming more challenging for me since I disagree with the animal-based diet and supplements that are so prevalent in the sport.”
I am now into my fourth year on a low-protein, supplement-free, whole-food, plant-based diet, focusing on promoting vegan bodybuilding within a mainstream bodybuilding culture.
“I’m in my 20th year as a vegan athlete, and I am as strong now as I ever was when I was using supplements and consuming copious amounts of protein.”
Today, I follow a 70/15/15 approach, consuming approximately 70 percent of my calories from whole-food carbohydrates and 15 percent of each proteins and fats. I prefer to promote the general fitness lifestyle over competitive bodybuilding, as fitness appeals to far more individuals.
I have also become an expert on fat loss and muscle growth with a high-carbohydrate, low-protein, whole-food, plant-based diet from my years of experience following this approach and writing about it extensively in my latest book, “Shred It!”
Q: What would your friends/colleagues say you’re really good at?
My friends and colleagues would probably say that I am good at leading by example:
- I created www.veganbodybuilding.com back in 2003
- Produced a vegan athlete documentary in 2005
- Wrote a bestselling book about vegan bodybuilding in 2010
- Released another bestselling book about the whole-food, plant-based athlete lifestyle in 2014
- I run the largest vegan athlete social media pages on the Internet
As a result of those efforts, I believe many friends would say I lead by example from putting in the work to create projects I believe in.
Q: What would your naysayers say you’re bad at?
I believe naysayers would say I’m bad at building muscle as a vegan by comparing me to mainstream steroid-using bodybuilders. They might also say that I am bad at running my website and that I’m not very good at responding to emails.
I have 700 unread emails in my main email account, and I run an out-of-date-looking website, so I would agree with the criticism, and I actively work hard to improve in many areas that I currently struggle to thrive in.
Q: What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
If I could go back in time, I would tell my 18-year-old self to spend more time in school. Though I have become successful in many areas, both personally and professionally, I never went to a traditional college or university, and I don’t have a degree in anything.
I relied on hard work to get where I am today, but I think I would have enjoyed college, learning and becoming smarter, as well as developing life-long friendships during those post-high school years in my late teens and early twenties.
Q: What are your three favorite books?
My three favorite books are:
1. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
2. “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk
3. “Made to Stick” by Dan and Chip Heath
Q: What was the hardest part of writing your book? Tell us about the events that led to the decision to write it.
The hardest part about writing “Shred It!” was creating a 300-page book following my 300-page “Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness” book released in 2010.
Coming up with new material covering a similar topic is always a challenge.
Fortunately for me, I have had a dramatic change in my views about protein consumption, supplement use, training, and other related topics, so I was able to write about a lot of completely fresh and innovative ideas.
Following my completion of Dr. Campbell’s Plant-Based Nutrition Certification Course, I was determined to write a plant-based fitness book. One that contained the fundamental principles of eating real, healthy whole plant foods combined with enjoyable exercise.
Perhaps the aspect that I am most proud of involving my latest book is the endorsements I received from many of my biggest role models, including Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., and the producer of “Forks Over Knives,” Brian Wendel.
It took nearly two years to write “Shred It!” when factoring in my initial drafts, hiring and working with an award-winning professional editor for six months, doing the photo shoots and book layout, and recruiting 28 world-renowned experts to peer review and endorse the book.
I am very proud that “Shred It!” is one of the bestselling vegan books of 2015 and has inspired thousands of people to achieve their health and fitness goals.
Q: What are the three biggest changes in fitness you’ve observed over the past decade?
Over the past decade, the biggest changes I’ve seen in the fitness industry are the trends that include CrossFit, the use of kettlebells, and the growing popularity of calisthenics and Parkour, or bodyweight training.
Programs such as P90X and other DVD training programs seem to be at an all-time high, as well. In general, I view these changes to be a good thing, because there are now more options available to the mainstream public, which appeal to mass audiences.
This, in turn, gets more people to become active, and should result in improved levels of health for this and the next generation if the fitness lifestyle is supported by healthy eating practices.
I believe changes and trends in fitness come and go, but as long as people are active and enjoying themselves doing physical activities, I think we’re on the right path.
Q: How did you become the founder/president of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness?
When I became vegan, I was a 15-year old, 120-pound sophomore in high school in 1995.
I was a five-sport athlete, finding most of my success in endurance sports such as cross-country, soccer, and track and field.
As a skinny teenage athlete, I wanted to be bigger and stronger.
It wasn’t until 1999 that I decided to start lifting weights. I wasn’t even familiar with the sport of bodybuilding, but I knew I wanted to build muscle.
The following year, I discovered there was an actual competitive sport of bodybuilding and embraced it, adding 30 pounds in one year, peaking at 185 pounds in 2001.
In 2002, at age 22, I founded Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, a brand designed to share my vegan bodybuilding lifestyle with others.
My website, www.veganbodybuilding.com, went online in early 2003. By that year, I weighed 195 pounds and had been featured in FLEX Magazine three times.
The vegan bodybuilding lifestyle was put on the map in a major way when I started competing and winning bodybuilding competitions in the mid-2000s.
I shared those experiences in newspapers, on TV, on the radio, in books, and all over the Internet.
“My vision behind creating Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness was to lead by example to show that you can successfully build muscle on a vegan diet and achieve fitness goals without having to compromise ethics to excel in athletics. Ultimately, I wanted my actions to inspire others to lead to a more compassionate world.”
I went from weighing 120 pounds when I became vegan to weighing 195 pounds eight years later, and felt like I had a compelling story to share.
That story is still relevant today, as I am a keynote speaker sharing my transformation from skinny farm kid to champion vegan bodybuilder to audiences around the world.
Q: Next big plans for the site and you personally?
One of the exciting things that is part of my role in the vegan fitness industry is that I really never know what is next. I work hard to create opportunities by writing books, setting up speaking tours, and completing other projects, but there is also a lot of spontaneity and unique opportunities that arise on a regular basis.
For example, I take off to Australia for a three-week tour in October 2015, and I’m still piecing things together. I also plan to take a trip to Thailand in the New Year and possibly relocate to Venice Beach for a couple of months in early 2016, but these are just possibilities in the broad scope of life to be determined as time goes on.
Professionally, I plan to write more books in the near future, and I will continue to tour and speak to audiences around the world. Personally, I plan to do a lot of traveling to exotic places to explore the planet while sharing the compassionate vegan lifestyle with people all over the globe.
As for Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, we’ll be improving our website, growing our social media communities, releasing some companion books to “Shred It!,” producing more vegan fitness clothing, and writing more content for many publications.
Q: What does the future of plant-based fitness look like in the next five to 10 years?
The future for plant-based fitness is a bright one.
I was a plant-based athlete before the Internet came of age, and a whole lot has changed over the past couple of decades. The awareness of the vegan lifestyle is at an all-time high and growing rapidly, as is the acceptance of vegans in the athletic industry.
“There are more successful vegan athletes from all walks of life than we have ever seen, and this will only continue to perpetuate throughout all sports for years to come.”
I predict that there will be big stars in all major men’s and women’s sports who publicly adopt and promote a plant-based lifestyle within the next decade. This will truly be exciting to watch.
My latest book, “Shred It!,” can be found on www.veganbodybuilding.com.
Wishing you all the very best. Follow your passion and make it happen!