Vegan Bodybuilder Interview

Robert Cheeke is a bodybuilder and a vegan. Bodybuilding has been long associated with meat-eating because of the belief that meat is the best source of large amounts of protein, but he has shown that eating plant-based foods can also work for the sport. What follows is an interview with him.

Why did you decide to stop eating animal-based foods?

I grew up on a farm and developed an appreciation for farm animals similar to the respect and appreciation someone might have for a dog or a cat. Given this perspective of farm animals and my closeness to them through my involvement in 4-H, raising them as pets, it seemed fitting to stop eating my animal friends. I no longer wanted to contribute to animal cruelty and suffering and decided to go vegan, as a teenager in the agriculture town of Corvallis, OR in the mid 90ís.

How long have you been vegan?

I have been vegan since December 8, 1995 (when I was 15 years old and 120 pounds Ė By 2003, I was up to 195 pounds and a competitive bodybuilder running

What are some of your favorite sources of protein?

I honestly donít have a single favorite source of protein. I eat a wide variety of foods based on what Iím in the mood for, where I am on a given day, what my training and competition schedule is like, and so on.† In general, I like to eat Thai, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, and Ethiopian foods. These ethnic foods tend to be comprised of rice, vegetables, beans and legumes, and greens. Overall, they are incredibly filling, calorie and protein-rich and very tasty. If I feel like I want additional protein on top of my whole-food based meals, Iíll use plant-based protein powders such as Vega, which is primarily made up of hemp, pea and rice protein.

What are some of your favorite vegan foods?

I love fruits more than anything else. I travel regularly and have the amazing opportunity to pick fruit off the trees and eat the freshest, tastiest fruit available. Berries in the summer are perhaps my ultimate favorite, but Iím also a big fan of more traditional fruits available in anywhere America year-round including bananas, apples, oranges, and grapes.

My second favorite type of food is probably burritos. I eat burritos almost every day. They are made of up some of my individual favorite foods including rice, beans, and avocado and all together are calorie-rich, protein dense, and of course very tasty and filling. Yams and potatoes, quinoa, kale and artichokes are some of my other favorite whole foods. Thai and Indian dishes, especially Masaman and Yellow Curry and vegetable samosas and Aloo Matter, are by far my favorite dinner meals. Avocado rolls are another menu item I indulge in regularly.

Do you measure the amount of protein you consume daily because of your bodybuilding?

When I am preparing for competition or in bulking-up phases of my bodybuilding program I do measure my daily intake of protein. My levels of consumption are far greater than that of someone who isnít training for my specific sport, but Iíve noticed that consumption of 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, combined with intense resistance weight training sessions one or two times a day, allows me to build muscle, get stronger and improve as a bodybuilder.

When I am not training regularly, I donít consumer nearly as much protein, probably less than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, because I am not creating tears in muscle and therefore donít need as much protein to repair, recover and grow.

You started as a serious distance runner, how did you decide to start bodybuilding and are there any advantages to began a vegan also?

I was a 5-sport athlete in high school (soccer, cross country, wrestling, basketball and track & Field) combined with a few other extra-curricular sports I did on my own (skateboarding, tennis, dancing) and after high school I chose to pursue cross country distance running in college. I was an NCAA collegiate runner at Oregon State University in 1999 and enjoyed it, but knew that in the back of my mind and in my heart, I always wanted to be a muscular person. I stopped running and started picking up weights immediately. I gained 30 pounds in my first year of real dedicated training and went on to win multiple bodybuilding championships and have competed more than 10 times over the past decade.

A vegan diet/lifestyle is very conducive to success in athletics because plant-based whole foods provide the best sources of nutrition, coming from their original forms. The nutritional components we need to thrive are vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and glucose and those all come in their original and best forms from fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds and legumes. Whether weíre referring to running, swimming, football or bodybuilding, all athletes and non-athletes alike, can benefit from a plant-based, whole food vegan diet/lifestyle.

Do you receive messages via your website and YouTube Channel from people about their conversion to a vegetarian or vegan diet in some part due to the information about it you have shared?

I get emails, Facebook messages, Twitter comments and YouTube comments every day. I am pleased to know a lot of people have found my work and the work of my fellow vegan athletes to be inspirational and I am happy that collectively weíre saving a lot of lives and progressing forward in our quest for compassion and peace.

When you travel how do you maintain your diet and how do choose your foods when you eat at restaurants that typically don’t cater to vegans?

In 2011, I traveled about 250 days out of the year. This was for my Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness book tour, my work with Vega Ė a plant-based whole food nutrition company, and my work with the new documentary film Forks Over Knives. I drove thousands of miles in my car around the US and Canada and took nearly 50 flights, attending vegetarian, vegan, health, fitness, and animal rights themed events in all corners of North America.

As a bodybuilder I learned a decade ago to pack food with me at all times. I carry fruit, protein and energy bars, protein powder, nuts, and other vegan snacks and sometimes full entrees everywhere I go. Whether in the car, or on a plane, I always have lots of food with me.

When Iím stopped in a given city for a few days I seek out various restaurants and grocery stores. Iím very easy Ėgoing and donít always desire a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, but seek out ethic food restaurants, grocery stores and co-ops or even farmerís markets during the summer. I eat at Mexican, Thai and Indian food restaurants most often, followed by regular trips to the grocery store to stock up on produce and snacks. Iíve been to more vegan restaurants than I can count, and I do like to support vegan businesses where they exist, primarily in major cities.

Any restaurant is going to have some sort of vegetables, greens, fruits, etc. and whether the items are listed on the menu or not, I can find suitable food even if I end up in the least likely veg-friendly restaurant or town.

What has been the best part of becoming a vegan?

The best part of being vegan is knowing I am saving lives and being a role model for others to do the same. Seeing a rescued animal get a second chance at life is priceless and heart-warming.

Are other bodybuilders curious about your diet when you meet them?

Vegan Bodybuilding is becoming a lot more mainstream than it used to be. When I started in 2002, I was the only vegan athlete I knew of. Now we have over 5,000 members on our website and weíre discovering new vegan athletes all the time from professional and elite levels of our major sports to weekend warriors and everyone in between. Vegan athletes arenít quite as mysterious as they used to be so I donít have to answer the protein question quite as much as I did 10-15 years ago. In general, other bodybuilders are curious as to what I eat since mainstream bodybuilding culture still embraces meat, eggs and whey protein as their primary sources.

If I can share my story of going from 120-pound non-vegan to a 195-pound champion vegan bodybuilder, and share the stories of many others who have had similar or greater results, and have a positive influence on people, I am thrilled to do so. I plan to get back on the competitive bodybuilding stage in 2012 after† taking a couple of years off for my busy book tour.

-Robert Cheeke
@RobertCheeke on Twitter

Image Credit: Mikkei

Related Links

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Mark Bill
Past Member 2 years ago

Your blog has some decisive insight; everybody can get interest in your site easily.
how to build muscle and lose fat

Chinmayee Jog
Chinmayee Jog5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this :) It's so important to see athletes flourishing on a vegetarian/vegan diet! I went vegetarian 13 years ago (as a teenager) with my family and we have never looked back...suffice to say we feel much healthier, lighter, and don't have to worry about animals being killed for us :)

chelsea m.
chelsea madison5 years ago

Inspiring interview. I'm interested to see the film "Forks Over Knives".

Same 5 or 6 anti-vegans making the same inane comments on every vegan useless and boring, ladies. Just eat what you want and get a life.

Marie B.
Past Member 5 years ago

Honestly I don't know why you don't understand the fact that my health is thriving and has been for the entire TWENTY FIVE YEARS that I have been vegan. So are MILLIONS of other vegans. You aren't here to help anyone, Carol. You are here solely because you are anti-vegan and you even admit that you are anti vegan, though you just don't use that term. You, and a few other anti vegans flood literally every discussion that even mentions the word VEGAN and you spout off anti-vegan rhetoric, disinformation, SCARE TACTICS, and your obvious intolerance of any mentions of the the countless benefits of being vegan. Seriously, do you really think you are fooling anyone besides yourself (and the other anti-vegans)?

Carol P.
Carol P5 years ago

Honestly, I don't get why a vegan would get angry with anything that I'm writing. Learning more about the negative effects of a vegan diet can help YOUR health. Just do some research other than on vegan websites so that you can get the full picture instead of just the propaganda and spin.

Carol P.
Carol P5 years ago

This study from the University of Chicago was a study of the health of the planet, not humans, conducted by geophysicists.

I saw the study about reducing effects of rheumatoid arthritis when doing my research, and while a vegan diet may help this one symptom, it does not prove that other health issues would not arise. Same with the asthma study.

I saw the intestinal flora studies but their results were only that it changed, but said nothing about it being healthier, just linked to the arthritis thing. Eating GMO foods changes the flora too, but not necessarily for the better.

No doubt, anyone currently eating a standard diet full of meat, snack foods, fried foods and processed foods would benefit greatly from switching to a vegetarian diet short term.

I'm still waiting for a scientific study that proves that it is healthier to skip animal-based foods altogether long term. None of the studies you listed do that.

And unfortunately, the worst effects of a vegan diet can take years to cause symptoms bad enough to notice and, in many cases, are irreversible once they are discovered.

I have never said anyone should eat meat every day. I don't think I've had any since Thanksgiving, and that was primarily to be polite. But I did have some fish last week and a couple of eggs this weekend because they are excellent sources of vital nutrients my body needs. A diet that is primarily vegetarian with limited amounts of meat and other animal products will trump a vegan

Marie B.
Past Member 5 years ago

@ alex-- thanks for posting the information and link!
People like Carol prefer to deny and ignore things that don't align with what they want to believe. The fact is that more and more people are becoming better informed and are learning the countless benefits of a vegan diet. I am actually guiding a couple right now---he is 82 and she is 79! I have known them for 2 years now and they had never heard of "vegan" before they met me. Every time we'd see each other they would always ask lots of questions (they introduce me as their "vegan friend" ;) and now that they have seen and heard so much about it, they want to try it! There is no age limit and literally people of all ages are more than curious and since a vegan diet is becoming more mainstream, it is also becoming SO much easier than it was 25 years ago (when I first became vegan). I am excited about this couple trying it and I hope that it will revitalize them and help them to enjoy the rest of their lives feeling healthier and more energetic than they have in years. I'm sure things like this are upsetting to anti-vegans, which is really sad and pathetic, actually.

Great posts, alex---keep up the great work! :)

alex l.
alex l5 years ago

carol p

and just to follow up;

and if you actually read it you will read;

Martin and Eshel’s research indicated that plant-based diets are healthier for people as well as for the planet.

“The adverse effects of dietary animal fat intake on cardiovascular diseases is by now well established. Similar effects are also seen when meat, rather than fat, intake is considered,” Martin and Eshel wrote. “To our knowledge, there is currently no credible evidence that plant-based diets actually undermine health; the balance of available evidence suggests that plant-based diets are at the very least just as safe as mixed ones, and most likely safer.”

your information is either woefully incorrect, or willfully misguiding.
these are two assistant Prof at Chicago University, in Geophysical Sciences, and there are literally dozens more. and almost no studies that are peer-reviewed that claim the opposite.
please stop attempting to disseminate misinformation.

alex l.
alex l5 years ago

Carol p

what a crock

1. Kjeldsen-Kragh, J. Controlled trial of fasting and one-year vegetarian diet in rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet, 991; 338: 899-902.

2. (a) Fisher, M., et al. The Effect of Vegetarian Diets of Plasma Lipid and Platelet Levels. Archives of Internal Medicine, 1988; 146:1193-1197.
(b) McDougall, J., et al. Rapid Reduction of Serum Cholesterol and Blood Pressure by a Twelve-Day, Very Low Fat, Strictly Vegetarian Diet. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 14, No. 5, 491-496 (1995).
(c) Resnicow, K., et al. Diet and Serum Lipids in Vegan Vegetarians: A Model for Risk Reduction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1991; 91:447-453.

3. (a) Ling, W. Shifting from a Conventional Diet to an Uncooked Vegan Diet Reversibly Alters Fecal Hydrolytic Activities in Humans. Journal of Nutrition, 122: 924-930,1992.
(b) Peltonen, R., et al. Changes of Faecal Flora in Rheumatoid Arthritis During Fasting and One-Year Vegetarian Diet. British Journal of Rheumatology 1994; 33:638-643.

4. Lindahl, O., et al. Vegan Regimen with Reduced Medication in the Treatment of Bronchial Asthma. Journal of Asthma, 22(1) 45-55 (1985).
Michael Klaper is founding director of the non-profit Institute of Nutrition Education and Research and serves on the Nutrition Task Force of the American Medical Student Association.

there are literally hundreds of studies that prove it, and hundreds more that prove a very strong link between meat eating, diabetes and

Carol P.
Carol P5 years ago

I've never disputed the environmental or animal-welfare issues. It's bad all around.

But after doing plenty of research, I am now firmly against vegan diets. Marie, you get full credit for making me pay more attention to this issue. Thanks. I love learning new things.