Robert Cheeke is someone whom you can’t help but admire. He is paving the way in vegan fitness and bodybuilding and is on a mission to show others that a plant-based lifestyle and optimal athletic performance fit together like peanut butter and jelly. He is the winner of the 2005 INBA Northwestern USA Natural Bodybuilding Overall Novice Championship, a title he won competing against meat eaters. A vegan since high school, Cheeke espouses the philosophy that following a plant-based diet is one of the best things we can do for our health as well as the well-being of the environment. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Robert about why it’s so important to educate others about the reality of vegan living and why giving up animal products doesn’t mean we have to give up achieving our fitness goals.
1) When did you first go vegan and what motivated you to make the change?
My journey to veganism began in high school when I was a sophomore. My older sister, Tanya, was interested in animal rights and held an animal rights week at our high school in 1995. She became a vegetarian and I soon followed. For a long time, I felt a connection to animals and believed it was wrong to eat creatures with personalities, thoughts and the ability to show love and affection. I grew up on an animal farm and my father worked in the animal science department at Oregon State University. It was in this environment, with direct contact to farm animals, that I decided that eating meat was not in accordance with my values. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was a committed vegan and by my senior year, I organized my own vegan club meetings and Animal Rights Week.
2) There are not many people out there doing what you do, promoting plant-based fitness and bodybuilding. How do you convince others that it can be done?
There is nothing more effective than tangible results to show people that athletic achievement and substantial muscle growth can be achieved healthfully on a plant-based diet. I’ve been recording my weight since high school, ever since I was a skinny teenager of 120 pounds. When I began bodybuilding and cross-country running in college in 1999, I was able to go from my starting weight in college of 155 pounds to 185 pounds in the first year. I gained 30 pounds in one year on a vegan, plant-based diet and eventually got up to 195 pounds all without eating animal products or dairy-based protein powders and shakes. Actions speak the loudest and I eventually gained over 75 pounds over the course of seven years on an entirely vegan diet. If I can do it, other people can do it too.
3) Amongst the bodybuilding community, what has been the overall response when you explain to fellow body builders that you are vegan?
In general, people are very supportive of my lifestyle. I’ve hung around with all of the best body builders in the world and I’ve discussed with many athletes about the health benefits of consuming plant-based protein versus meat and dairy protein and processed protein shakes and powders. The latter puts too much stress on the body and predispose us to heart disease and other health conditions. Certainly, being fit does not mean that we are living a health-promoting lifestyle. I’ve had countless conversations with athletes and body builders and for the most part, I’ve received inquisitive, thoughtful and positive responses.
4) What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Bringing so many people together through my website, befriending other like-minded individuals, and being part of a supportive community of people who wish to make a tangible difference in the lives of other people. Because of my website, I’ve had the opportunity to meet people I otherwise would never had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with and I’ve gotten to know people who soak up the knowledge that I have to share about healthy, plant-based living. Helping animals is another hugely satisfying part of my job. One of my goals for the future is to eventually open up my own animal farm sanctuary where abused animals can find peace amidst a natural, spacious setting. I’ve missed the communication and relationship with farm animals that I enjoyed in my youth and I want that to be a part of my life again.
5) Speaking of goals, what are some other goals you would like to accomplish in the future?
My goals for the future are vast. I am recognized as a vegan body-builder, but I am actually interested in veering away from body building and moving on to other passions of mine. Writing books that motivate people, how to find our personal best, what makes us happiest, and how to embrace our passions with enthusiasm are topics I am passionate about and will continue to work on for years to come. My books will have varying topics and themes, but they all will be geared towards motivating people to live their best lives possible. For instance, how does one write a successful book, produce a well-received movie, or become the best athlete they can be? These will be topics my books will delve into. I want to make a difference in people’s lives and writing books will be one of my primary vehicles for doing so. I’d even like to compose children’s books Mr. Rogers style on topics such as how to be kind, thoughtful, and respectful of people, animals and nature. It’s important for parents to teach their children these values from an early age and books are an ideal means of communicating these messages in an enjoyable manner.
Athletics, plant-based eating, and animal welfare will always be a part of my life and I look forward to exploring my many interests while helping others, animals and our planet for years to come.
6) What is your favorite food?
I love fruit! I eat fruit seasonally and I love them all. It’s not unusual for me to have as many as 20 different types of fruits in my house at one time. I love persimmons, berries, figs, mangoes, pineapple and exotic fruits like dragon fruit and jackfruit. As for meals, I’m a big fan of Indian food and Thai food.