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Book Review: Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness by Robert Cheeke

As someone who has tried or experimented with almost every nutritional "philosophy" out there, I was instantly intrigued by Robert Cheeke and his story.

Robert Cheeke is possibly the most successful all-vegan bodybuilder in the industry.  I stumbled across him when researching for a previous article and found his approach to nutrition confusing (at first).

What was confusing, is that most bodybuilding teachings are based upon animal protein staples like steak, chicken, and eggs.  The standard stereotype for a vegan would be someone thin and weak in appearance, and hardly capable of the strenuous physical activity that bodybuilding requires.  I had read about quite a few vegan long distance runners and triathletes like Brendan Brazier,but had yet to learn of a vegan able to handle his business in the weight room. By one look at his photos, Robert Cheeke is a living contradiction of those stereotypes.

Thankfully, in-addition to his website and numerous interviews online, Robert authored a book outlining his life's path that has brought him to where he is today.  He takes the reader on a walk through his childhood growing up in a rural Corvallis, Oregon (home of the Oregon State Beavers) and his exposure to animals.  Robert does a nice job of explaining why he value animals as passionately as he does.

No bodybuilding book would be complete without the requisite chapters on structuring your workouts and a glimpse into how to train, and Robert's book certainly fills the requirement there.

To me, what is truly worth reading is the detail with which Robert outlines his nutrition and just how he fuels himself every day.  Robert does a great job of proactively answering the standard question posed to vegan athletes "Where do you get your protein???"  Robert provides several charts and outlines of protein content in his dietary staples like beans, tempeh, quinoa, tofu, seeds, and of course leafy green vegetables.

What is important about this book, is that it is not a "vegan book", full of propaganda and preachy chapters.  It is a bodybuilding/workout book written by an author who happens to be vegan.  If you are a hardcore vegan, or even if you are the sort of person who cannot live without a juicy steak or chicken breast everyday (I'm somewhere in the middle of the continuum) - I would definitely recommend Robert's book.

I believe that regardless of your eating habits or nutritional beliefs, it's important to continue to educate yourself on alternative philosophies, if for no other reason than to strengthen what you already know.  I would highly recommend Robert Cheeke's book, which is well-written and thorough, yet even-handed at the same time.  You can find the book for purchase through Amazon.com as well as here.

 Robert also maintains a heavy social media presence and is active on Twitter, and seems more than happy to help share what he has learned with those eager to learn.


Fitness Spotlight - Kelly Fillnow

My initial aim was to introduce this in the same theme as other Regular People features, however it seems apparent that the days of calling Kelly Fillnow "regular" are long gone.  

Kelly Fillnow is a fellow Davidson alum with a very interesting path that brought her to present day.  There are quite a few recent pieces both print and online (all very well-written) that outline her unique road from college tennis star to cross-country team walk-on to Ironman triathlete, so I won't attempt to re-tell her story once again.

Anyone who competes at the level Kelly does cannot be called "regular" anymore, however as you will see, Kelly is still a normal person whose drive and dedication made such great achievements possible.

Fresh off of competing in her first Ford Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, Kelly was gracious enough to make time for an interview with me. 


1. First of all, how was your experience in Kona? 

No words can truly capture the experience of competing against the world's best endurance athletes.  It was an experience that I will remember for the rest of
my life. I had such a surplus of emotions circulating in my brain
moments before the cannon went off, as I had no idea how the rest of
the day might unfold.  But I kept telling myself that the work was
done, and my journey was almost complete.  All I needed to do was just
enjoy the day and the results would take care of themselves!

2. As a dual-sport athlete in college, was there ever a point where
you could feel your emotions shifting from Tennis towards Cross
Country, or was it always an equal balance?

Tennis was always my first love, but there was something that intrigued me about running
when the sport came so naturally to me.  I had no background in
running (besides running as a punishment in basketball, soccer,
softball, and tennis growing up.)  I had quick success in cross
country, while daily balancing three hours of tennis practice with my
run training.  My Davidson cross country coach inspired me to try and
get a scholarship to compete post-Davidson.  She encouraged me to see
where I could take the sport, without having to balance two sports

With her encouragement, I competed for Duke during my
5th year of NCAA eligibility.  It was a dream come true, practicing
with some of the best runners in the United States.  I have the same
struggle now, as I am attempting to balance both running and
triathlon.  But to truly be the best you can be, a decision has to be
made and a sport has to be chosen to pursue.  Excellence is hard to
reach while juggling multiple sports demanding such specific & diverse


3. As another former dual-sport Davidson College athlete, my
“nutrition” was 99% junk food. Did you have a more disciplined
approach to your nutrition back in college or did better eating habits
develop during the latter years?

During my high school years, my mom
took care of providing the most wholesome, delicious meals for my twin
brother, and me. 

*(editor's note: Kelly has a twin sister Meghan who was also a college tennis star at Davidson and is still an amazing athlete as well. More on her to come from Kelly below.)

We typically trained about 3-4 hours of tennis a
day, so our bodies needed proper fuel.  She would make well balanced
meals consisting of protein, vegetables, a starch, and then a loaf of
bread per person because we would always fight over the bread!!  When
I went to college, I had to make the decision myself to eat healthy.
I made wise decisions at the dining hall where I ate all my meals, and
began to get interested in nutrition in order to properly fuel my body
for optimal performance.  I wanted to be the best that I could be, and
in order to do that, I needed to be as metabolically healthy as
possible, and nutrition plays a huge part in that state.


4. What does a typical training day look like for you, including
meals, workout, post-workout nutrition, etc?

There really is no such thing as a typical training day, except for Mondays and Fridays when I
swim for an hour and do light lifting/core. The rest of the week is
very diverse.  Some days I will have an intense 90 minute computrainer
ride and an additional 60 minute swim.  A weekend day might be a 4
hour bike ride and a 30 minute run with intervals at race pace.  But
the training load changes throughout the year depending on if it is
triathlon season, and I have to be on my bike, or if it is winter
season and I am focused on just running and swimming.


Normally I eat about 6 times a day, at the very minimum every three hours.  I need
the constant fuel because of my rigourous training schedule.  Quality,
quantity, and timing of nutrients is very key to recover properly
between my workouts, as some days I will be having multiple workouts.
I like to eat about 20 minutes after I finish my workout to optimally
refuel my depleted glycogen stores so I can be ready for the next day
or the next workout.  I try to eliminate processed foods, and focus on
whole grains, lots of vegetables, fruit, and lean protein.


5. For early morning workouts are you a fan of breakfast
pre-run/workout or just coffee/empty stomach?

I actually don't drink coffee!  When I do a light morning workout, I do not have to eat
anything, but if it is anything over an hour, I definitely eat
breakfast pre-workout.  I have an iron stomach, so I can literally eat
and run out the door.  I do not recommend that to most people though!!


6. What’s your eating approach (ex: carb load, etc) in the final 24-48
hours before a big competition or race? What about in the hours
immediately after?

My eating approach is to eliminate fiber the last 48 hours before a big race.  Two days before the race I focus on lots of carbohydrates, lean protein, and lowering my fat intake.  I always have a few tablespoons of honey at breakfast 48 hours prior to the big day. 

The day prior to the race, I have a big breakfast, an energy bar like a Clif bar for a snack, then a big, carbohydrate friendly lunch. I eat dinner between 530-6 and prefer to have a sweet potato, grilled chicken, a low fiber vegetable, and bread. 

My favorite post-race splurge is a calzone from Mellow Mushroom and a large oreo cookie blizzard from Dairy Queen.


7. What’s the one food/desert that you still can’t give up, no matter

 I love my ice cream, low fat of course :). 


8. What’s your advice for someone who might be thinking of attempting
a new challenge like a half-marathon or sprint triathlon (or even a
simple fitness class) but hasn’t found the courage yet?

 I truly believe that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to
accomplishing.  I have witnessed countless clients who have not even
been able to run two minutes, compete half marathons!

This past weekend, I was truly inspired by my twin sister, who had a goal to PR
in her marathon (3:04).  She ended up getting sick to her stomach and

started vomiting at mile 19, ten times before she finished the race.
She had a goal, however, and her mind overcame her body's inability to
function properly, and she hit a new PR of (3:03), solely because of
her belief and desire to achieve her goal. You will be surprised what
your body can achieve when you stay positive with yourself and stay
patient in the process of development.

I think it is very important to set goals for yourself, and write them down.  Then, tell a friend or your husband or a coach so that they can help keep you accountable along the way.  The hardest part is taking that first step.  But once you take that first step, there is no limit to what you can
accomplish.  The most important thing is to enjoy the journey along
the way!


Fitness Spotlight: Regular People - Volume 3

It's been a while since I have highlighted an everyday person that provides a great fitness example for the rest of us, but I met one recently in Philip Ciccarello

We "met" originally through Twitter, which is one more testament to the power of social media.  By day, Philip is the Director of Technology for the Charlotte Regional Partnership, an economic development organization. His real passion however, is running.

As you can tell by his photos - Philip is a very in-shape dude.  His blog highlights a wide variety of things, but among them you can find shoe reviews, and several informative running/training recaps.  He's also a fan of the post-long run ice bath (which I can attest is one of the true signs of both physical and mental toughness).

I'm always up for learning new things from people more experienced or knowledgable than me, and Philip has put me on to a couple good online training programs for my upcoming half-marathon, in addition to the littany of running information on his blog.

I hit him up recently for a look into his typical day's approach to nutrition around running workouts, and he was good enough to share:

"Most of my diet is very clean though. Try to eat a lot of vegetables, potatoes, rice, whole wheat breads, chicken, fish, and fruits. Basically I *try* to stay away from fried foods, high fructose corn syrup, pre-processed foods, red meats, desserts…it’s tough. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally fine to cheat on your diet once a week, but that’s where it should stop."
My Monday – Friday diet looks something like this:
6:30 Workout – coffee or vitamin B
8:15 Breakfast – either bagel or oatmeal (the real kind) w. peanut butter or cereal if no workout
10:00 Snack – Fruit or some nuts
12:00 Lunch – Usually a turkey sandwich on wheat bread with cheese and chips (with multi-vitamins)

3:00 Snack – More fruit
5:30 Run – depending on the day either a light to moderate run or speed work
7:30 Dinner – Pasta, Chicken, Fish, Potatoes, Vegetables and once a week sushi

His long runs are typically Saturdays, preceeded by a pancake dinner Friday night for carb loading, and usually a bagel or toast an hour or so in the morning pre-run.  For anything longer than 13 miles, he'll bring a Gu gel for consumption 45 minutes into the run.  

Post-long run, he may use Gatorade to get simple carbs back into the system and feed the drained muscles.

You can also learn a little more from his interview with RunnerDude's blog back in July.

Philip is one more example that despite having a regular everyday job and busy schedule, you can make time to get out on the road or in the gym for exercise and still find balance to fit it all into your lifestyle.


Fitness Spotlight: Regular People (vol. 2)

I thought I would take a break from supplying Fitness Spotlights on the "stars" of the sports/fitness industry and highlight some regular every-day people who have done inspiring things.  Technically, this is volume 2 highlighting regular people since KathEats is considered as the first installment.

My friend Carrie started her weight loss journey on New Years' Day 2010.  She did the right thing by taking a two-pronged approach to weight loss, not only did she aspire to become a more fit person through sweat equity (ie: workouts) but she enlisted the help of Medi-Weigh Loss Clinics to discuss a better approach to eating and nutrition.

To climb on the soap box for a brief moment, it is almost heart-breaking to see so many people each week who clearly want to change their bodies but think they can continue eating poorly and "sweat it off".  Carrie's results just reinforce the proven axiom that diet amplifies positive weight loss results from exercise.

In addition to Carrie's new disciplined approach to nutrition, she became a regular at our group fitness classes at the Dowd YMCA in Charlotte.  I was proud to see her hesitantly step into one of my classes (fearing she wouldn't be able to cut it) and then power through the whole thing after a couple sessions.

I won't spoil all the details of Carrie's story, which is detailed here on her great blog, but in less than six months, she's lost over 30 pounds and dropped 10% body fat as well. 

I met Carrie through her boyfriend, who is an old high school football teammate, friend, and general all around great guy (he's also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert).  We're all tremendously proud of her progress and success, and hopefully her story can serve as motivation and example for countless others with the same goals.


How'd You Get Fat?

Maybe this is the most interesting title I've had so far, but it's a bit misleading.

Basically I'd like to take you through the eating habits I had until the age of 25 that caused me to gain weight and get fat.

Like most people who were competitive athletes their entire lives, I never gave any consideration to food choices or portion control.  I ate what I wanted, whenever I wanted, and as much of it as I wanted.  I always burned everything off playing sports (basketball, football, track & field).

I began literally EVERY day with a giant bowl of cereal.  Cereal was my favorite food.  Frosted Flakes, Cap'n Crunch, Wheaties, Lucky Charms, the entire Cheerios family, Frosted Mini Wheats, I ate it all.  Plus I used the largest bowls I could find, a popcorn bowl or salad bowl was barely big enough.  Add in the fact I always used either 2% or Whole Milk and it isn't tough to figure out why I battled allergies and severe nasal congestion until my late twenties.  If somehow I wasn't eating cereal, then it was either a stack of Eggo Waffles (tons of syrup) or my mom's pancakes, which really are worthy of some sort of pancake-tasting contest if such a thing exists.

Snacks were nothing original - Pringles potato chips (Sour Cream & Onion), Doritos (Cool Ranch), Oreos, Pop Tarts, Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, usual "junk food".

My meals (if you can even call it that) were also junk-heavy.  My Mount Rushmore of Junk Food looks like this:

  • McDonald's Quarter Pounder w/ large fries & Coke
  • Domino's pizza (cheese & sausage) w/ dozen buffalo wings + 2 bottles Miller High Life
  • General Tso's Chicken w/ steamed white rice
  • Bojangles' chicken supremes w/ seasoned fries, sweet tea

*If Mount Rushmore had 5 heads I'd add a Philly cheesesteak from East Boulevard Bar & Grill in Charlotte.

I also LOVED fries.  Love might even be too mild of a term.  It wasn't unusual for me to be on a car trip and decide halfway down the highway that a large fry and chocolate or vanilla milkshake would make a good "snack" during the drive.

Wendy's deserves lots of credit too.  Their "Late Night Menu" became a good friend my first few years after college, I'd drive 2 miles to the next exit and get an order of nuggets, fries (of course), and a Biggie Frosty.  For a change of pace some nights I might just eat a handful of little marshmellows out of the cabinet before bed.

This is getting like an awards acceptance speech, since I am forgetting too many old friends. 

Ramen Noodles were a big staple during the post-college years.  I learned a trick from my college girlfriend about making "baked spaghetti", so I used Ramen along with sliced chicken nuggets, a handful of mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce to make a type of lasagna.

Please don't over-look the shoutout to sweet tea earlier.  Bojangles' had the best (read: sweetest) tea with Chick-Fil-A pulling in second.  I actually used to have my mom make a half gallon of sweet tea and bring it back to college.  If I had no sweet tea in the house, I'd keep an empty Gatorade bottle of Kool Aid in the fridge so I could get my liquid sugar fix that way.

This is probably gratuitious at this point - but I think you get the general idea.  People (especially co-workers) wonder why I am such a healthy eater, and why I am so disciplined about what goes into my body.  The reason is because of 25 years' worth of piling garbage into my body with no regard for health or athletic performance.  Who knows what type of athlete I could have been with even a rudimentary understanding of nutrition, or conversely the hazards of a diet heavy in starchy grains, sugars, dairy, and fried things.

It wasn't until during my first year in graduate school that roommate and friend (yes I am name-dropping here) Wes Miller told me "Dude, you're getting fat!?"  I couldn't believe it, but the mirror rarely lies, and the truth hurts.  Friends don't tell you what you want to hear, they tell you what you NEED to hear.  And I needed to hear that.

I didn't look like the Nutty Professor (yet) but I was surely headed there.  My six-pack had disappeared and my waist size was up to 36.  When I left grad school I weighed in at 193.

Today I'm back to a 32 and weighing between 178-180.  The points I wanted to make with this post were that we're all human and love crappy foods.  I was no different.  However please use the above eating lifestyle as a sample of how easily nutritional ignorance and lack of discipline can have you standing in-front of the mirror wondering how you got fat, just like I did.