So if you haven’t noticed, our blog updates have been far and few between lately. This happens when you’re trying to get tasks done, life moving and goals reached. One guy who gets this, probably more than most, is Robert Cheeke. Robert, who many in the fitness industry know, is more or less, the Godfather of the Vegan Bodybuilding movement. Arnold Schwarzenegger with more Kale and less Austria. The man with the plant based plan. And if you know the name, and you know the man, then you know from launching the Vegan Bodybuilding revolution, he’s nailed one goal after the next, all ultimately for the animals. He literally wrote the book on Vegan Bodybuilding. Twice. And the guy is on the road more than Metallica and AC/DC.
In fact, this interview took place over the course of a few weeks due to his relentless touring schedule. “Is he in a band now?” you metalheads might be asking? Not that he’s told us, but he has spend the last few years taking vegan activism and the life of a best selling author to another level. From Europe to Australia, to countless Vegan Expos and Vegfest’s as well as Fitness Expos the world over, Robert’s dedication to spreading the word of a plant based, non-cruelty lifestyle is second to none. The Oregon native (currently in Colorado) has worked with a multitude of organizations and industry people on pushing the message to every postal code possible, and slowly but surely has been cracking open stereotypes in the fitness industry that non-vegans have about those with plant power. With two simple words: SHRED IT!
His latest book, SHRED IT!, is a ‘can’t live without’ manual of health and fitness information, recipes, testimonials and scientifically backed facts that has endorsements from some of the biggest names in fitness, from the likes of Dr. Colin Campbell to Rich Roll. Robert’s influence on the industry has been nothing but a positive impact, a vegan muscle meteor crashing into a fitness industry in dire need of a wake up call that many of it’s archaic traditions are no longer working in a progressive world. Remember when you heard about Schwarzenegger talking about how more should back off from meat and dairy and embrace more of a plant based diet? You can bet some of this can be attributed to Robert’s work. And chances are, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Mr. Cheeke’s plan for a less cruel, healthier planet. When he was a young kid in Oregon, he wanted to be an athlete and an author. He’s living his dream, and we all benefit from it.
MMF: So, give us a run down of the insanity that has been the Robert Cheeke world tour since your latest book Shred It! was released. I think you’ve had more tour stops than Iron Maiden in the last two years. What’s it been like going around the world promoting and discussing it?
Robert Cheeke: It sure has been a wild ride. Shred It! was released in November of 2014 and I have spent the past year and half on tour. One example of how crazy it has been is that within a few days of the book’s release I took off on a 3-week tour in Australia. It was so successful, I went back a year later for another 3 weeks in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, which are all wonderful cities. At one point in late 2015 I spoke at six vegan festivals over six consecutive weekends in places far from one another such as Florida, Texas, and Oregon as well as three cities outside of the US. Over the past 18 months I have traveled all over the USA and Canada as well as exotic places such as the Caribbean, Asia and Australia.
To me, one of the best parts of being an author is going out on tour and meeting people and seeing amazing places from small towns to iconic cities. I enjoy giving presentations, signing books, and I genuinely like the travel. Being an author has opened up many amazing opportunities for me, as well as for my family, and my business. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angles, Denver, Phoenix, Chicago, and London, among other places. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was eight years old so it is really rewarding to live out that dream every day. I realize that the tours could end anytime, that I could be here today and gone tomorrow and no longer relevant, so I embrace every opportunity that I have to pursue this dream and leave a positive impact on those I influence.
MMF: Along the way you’ve had to encounter some of the bigger names in the fitness industry, not just the vegan fitness industry. Have fitness personalities outside the vegan community been receptive to the message of the book?
Robert Cheeke: Part of the fun of being an author about a specific subject, in my case, plant-based fitness, is that I quickly become associated with that topic and those seeking information about the plant-based fitness lifestyle will likely find my work. I have signed books for lots of celebrities in the vegan world and outside of the vegan world, from Mike Tyson to Jay Cutler and from Def Leppard to Tony Robbins. I have not only maintained my fitness but also put on muscle since releasing Shred It!, and I think that adds credibility, especially in the eyes of the non-vegan influencers, such as Tony Horton (P90X) who I recently worked out with at his house.
Overall, my book has been received very well from the non-vegan community. I think that is because of a few core reasons, including the passion I put into it. People can often recognize effort, heart, and passion, and can see that I spilled that into my book over the 2 ½ years it took me to produce it. Furthermore, Shred It! has been endorsed by dozens of world renowned experts, including some of the biggest names in the nutrition, health, and fitness industries. Experts such as Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., Julieanna Hever, R.D., Rich Roll, Kathy Freston, Rip Esselstyn, and about 20 other industry leaders peer reviewed and endorsed my book. These authorities in their fields have sold millions of books collectively and having their endorsement gives readers confidence that Shred It! is a good book, capable of changing lives and having a positive impact on readers.
MMF: One of the best things I’ve heard in a while was at the Portland Vegfest during the Athletes Panel with Brenda Carey and Vanessa Espinoza, you talked about the “macros” craze and had some pretty hilariously accurate choice words about it. Can you give me a little slice of that here? I know a lot of people who read the site are pretty into the “If It Fits Your Macros” craze and it’d probably be some stuff they should hear.
Robert Cheeke: This was an interesting point during the panel discussion. We had about an hour of just Q&A, which can be challenging, but also very interactive and a lot of fun. We fielded questions from the 100 to 200-person audience and then came a question about the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach to nutrition. I probably overreacted to the innocently asked question when I deliberately banged my head against the table, before addressing it. It got some good laughs and then I set the tone, explaining my overreaction to the question, and addressed it head-on. Basically, my concern over this ‘nutrition’ approach is that for many people, is has little to do with nutrition. Macro-nutrients are such a small part of overall nutrition. They are a key component for sure, and too much or too little of any one of them could be problematic and have health consequences, but it is the micro-nutrients that are grossly overlooked in this scenario focused solely on macro-nutrient numbers.
For those who are unfamiliar with them, macro-nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Followers of IIFYM have specific targets, say 60% of one, and 20% each of the other two macro-nutrients. Therefore, people will aim for these targets even if the foods don’t contain actual nutrition such as pizza, ice cream, pastries, donuts, and other popular foods consumed by individuals following IIFYM. This doesn’t make sense to me. I understand aiming for specific macro-nutrient targets, and I dedicate a section in Shred It! to that subject, encouraging readers to follow a 70% (real food) carbohydrate, 15% protein and 15% fat whole-food, plant-based diet. It makes sense to have some sort of awareness of your macro-nutrient breakdown, but it makes little sense to eat foods just because they are high in one macro-nutrient if those foods don’t contain actual nutrition such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other components found in whole plant foods.
So, I spent time banging my head against the table as I addressed some of these issues in Portland. For example, would it make sense to eat donuts because you want to boost your carbohydrate intake? Of course not, as there is no nutritional gain for doing so. You might as well eat Pixie Sticks or a bag of Fun Dip. Would it make sense to drink some sort of vegetable oil to boost your fat intake? Of course not, because oil is pure fat at 4,000 calories per pound, without the nutrition that actual whole foods such as avocado, walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and coconut have. I understand the concept of IIFYM, and I have some friends who follow it and love it, because they eat real foods, for the most part, but I think it can be problematic for many people because it serves as an excuse to eat junk foods (as long as they fit your macros for the day). One of my main underlying themes in my approach to achieving success in health and fitness is to change behaviors to create positive habits. Eating junk foods because they fit your macros is not a healthy way to create positive habits. It’s like taking a few steps forward and then a step backward every week, or every day for some people, which will often minimize or even completely negate progress.
Our outcomes in and health and fitness, and to some degree in life in general, are often largely based on our habits. Our true behaviors and habits (not the things we think we’re doing and what we post about in social media status updates) reveal our priorities and dictate our outcomes. Eating junk food daily, in significant quantities in many cases, if people are being totally transparent, is not a healthy or effective way to achieve positive health and fitness results. Therefore, I hope the banging of my head on the table has now been partially justified.
MMF: It seems like every day the Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness Facebook group has tons more members (26,000+!), celebrities are announcing they’ve gone vegan, more documentaries are coming out, etc. So with the vegan explosion on a worldwide level, do you feel as if the global awakening is in full swing? And as someone who is a leader in their respective field, do you have some ideas about how the movement can continue to grow?
Robert Cheeke: First of all, thank you, Dru, for being an admin for our Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness Facebook group! I remember sitting in a restaurant with you in Seattle a few years ago, talking about the community we managed. I was worried about the group surpassing 10,000 members because it was becoming more and more challenging to run with so many passionate people expressing various strong opinions on one topic or another. I appreciate you being part of the growth we’ve been able to experience as a company, as a brand, and as a community. I know I’m dating myself here, but I became vegan before the Internet came around, so I’ve been able to witness a lot of changes over the past couple of decades that I’ve been a vegan athlete. The awareness of a vegan lifestyle is greater than it has ever been. You’re right, there are so many celebrities, athletes, films, musicians, and other influencers who are adopting a vegan lifestyle and promoting it. From mega superstars like Carrie Underwood (super popular in country music) to powerful films like Forks Over Knives and Cowspiracy, the world is taking notice of the growing increase in the vegan lifestyle.
When I first went out on tour about 10 years ago there were relatively few vegetarian festivals. They existed in places like Seattle, Vancouver, Boston, Portland, San Francisco, Toronto, a couple of cities in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and that was it, it seemed. Today there are so many vegan festivals around the world it is hard to keep up with them. In fact, when before I had to wait weeks in between one festival and another, now I have seen as many as six vegan festivals taking place on the same day! As a touring speaker, the hard part these days is deciding which event to go to. For example, I’ll be selecting Denver VegFest over Chicago VegFest this summer and London (UK) VegFest over Melbourne, Portland, and many others taking place the same weekend. The same goes for selecting Atlanta over Tampa and London (ON) in November.
In the early days of my vegan lifestyle there were only a handful of vegan “meat” products. Now there are more than I can keep up with from brands such as Beyond Meat, Tofurky, Gardein, and Field Roast. The same goes for vegan cheeses, vegan ice cream, non-dairy milks, and essentially everything from eggs to sweet and sour pork, it’s all being made vegan these days. As someone who promotes a whole-food, plant-based diet, I don’t eat a lot of these foods, but the fact that they exist in major grocery store chains such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, Kroger, and in basically every other major chain, is a clear sign of changing times. Vegan restaurants are also booming like never before, some even have chains with lots of locations such as Loving Hut, Veggie Grill, and Native Foods to name a few. The world vegan is listed on menus from International restaurants to every day common restaurants, due to customer demand. The overall number of vegans is skyrocketing in the UK, the USA, Canada, and Australia, especially.
The number of vegan books, TV shows, actors, actresses, and influencers of all types continues to grow on a daily basis. One needs only to look to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or God forbid, YouTube (try to avoid the bacon comments. You can’t), and search the word #vegan to learn exactly how popular this movement is.
To continue to make forward progress in our effort for a more compassionate world, we need to make veganism as mainstream and as accessible as possible. I’d love to see mainstream athletes like LeBron James, Tom Brady, and others who have a massive influence, adopt a vegan lifestyle and promote it. The same goes for musicians, doctors, TV personalities, Presidents, and so on. People in a position of influence (millions upon millions of social media followers, TV audiences, stadium audiences and so forth) have an amazing capacity to create positive change if they choose to use their platform for such a noble effort. When the vegan lifestyle becomes more mainstream more animals will be saved, lives will be spared, and our planet will benefit. Until every cage is empty, we move onward in our quest for compassion, leading by positive example.
MMF: Knowing your work ethic, I’m guessing you already have another book planned for the future? Do you think you’ll be expanding on the Shred It! message or heading possibly into another direction or set of topics?
Robert Cheeke: To be fully transparent, you sent me these interview questions months ago, and I apologize for the delay getting back to you. It is easy to make excuses and say that I was traveling, often for weeks at a time before coming back home, all the while running my business and keeping up with a high social media presence I’m known for, but I also spent plenty of time lying on a beach, on a couch, or seated at a poker table, so I don’t use excuses. But what I will say is that from the time you sent me these interview questions to the time I’m following up, I have nearly completed a new book. I am co-authoring a plant-based fitness book with my training partner, Vanessa Espinoza, and our first draft is nearly completed. It won’t be out for months, but yes indeed, I am busy working away on a new book while I continue to tour with Shred It!. Al the while, I am working on other business projects like releasing a whole new clothing line and growing our social media communities to try to get the attention of big New York publishers. I think Shred It! is my signature book, you know, much like a band has their best album. I released Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness more than five years ago, and released a companion book to Shred It! in January of 2016, but I believe that Shred It! is my stand alone best book.
One thing that I’m considering is pitching it to big New York publishers and seeing if I can get book deal to get Shred It! into bookstores all over the country and make it more mainstream. We’ve sold thousands of copies directly, through our website and in person, and I have toured all over the world, and I think we can present a compelling case to get published by a major publisher. My books have sold tens of thousands of copies combined, and my social media following is in the hundreds of thousands, and I’m optimistic we can take Shred It! mainstream in due time. In the meantime, I have another book to finish.
MMF: With the site being a combo of metal and fitness, I’ve personally talked to a lot of musicians that are or have been vegan or recently made the switch. Phil Collen from the legendary rock band Def Leppard is someone you know. Have you guys met face to face and talked shop before? What do you think it means to the vegan rock community to have a huge name like him representing us?
Robert Cheeke: I don’t consider myself much of a music guy, but throughout my years on the road I have come across numerous vegan musicians, including Phil from Def Leppard. I’ve been friends with John Joseph from the Cro-Mags for years, and I met the (now former, after 19 years) drummer of the Goo Goo Dolls, Mike Malinin, who is also vegan, and Stic Man from Dead Prez, another vegan. I first met Phil years ago in Los Angeles. I had no idea who he was, but my friend is a huge Def Leppard fan, and when I learned he was in the band I asked Phil if he would sign a photo for my buddy. A year later I was backstage at a Def Leppard concert in Massachusetts (with the friend I got the signed photo for) and we got to go on the tour bus and hangout backstage. It was a really cool experience and it was my first time attending a major concert since seeing The Smashing Pumpkins in 1997 as a teenager. Recently, Def Leppard came to Denver, where I currently reside. I reached out to Phil, and sure enough, my girlfriend and I were hanging out backstage with all access passes. Phil is a super nice guy, and incredibly fit vegan at age 57, and is the co-lead guitarist for an iconic rock band. I think it is awesome for the vegan movement. While back stage we even saw vegan cake, almond milk, foods labeled as ‘vegan,’ and I think it is very encouraging. Def Leppard has an all-vegan tour bus as well since drummer, Rick Allen, is also vegan. I’m sure you know plenty of other vegan musicians, being in the music industry. These people mentioned above are just some that I’ve come across during my travels. It sure makes touring more interesting showing up at Cro-Mags concert wearing a sweater and collared shirt and being told to stay off to the side so I don’t get hurt from the flailing limbs in the mosh pit, or whatever it is called.
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