No Whey Man says Robert Cheeke

Robert Cheeke 1 is a leading light in the area of vegan bodybuilding. His advice 2  on whether or not we should use whey powders in an attempt to build muscle should probably be adhered to or, at the least, listened to and carefully considered.

Robert Cheeke
  1. Who is Robert Cheeke? []
  2. No Whey, Man. I’ll Pass on the Protein Powder. By Robert Cheeke. November 7, 2014. []
  3. The Problem with Protein []
  4. Cow’s Milk – But It Looks So Innocent… []
  5. Eat Enough Food & You Eat Enough Protein []
  6. Animal Protein & Your Kidneys []
  7. Circ Heart Fail. 2018 Jun. Intake of Different Dietary Proteins and Risk of Heart Failure in Men: The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Virtanen HEK, Voutilainen S, Koskinen TT, Mursu J, Tuomainen TP, Virtanen JK. []
  8. Independent: High protein diets like Atkin’s may increase risk of heart failure, finds study []
  9. PCRM: Milk and Prostate Cancer: The Evidence Mounts []
  10. Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein? Michael Greger M.D. FACLM June 6th, 2014 Volume 19 []

WFPB Eating to Prevent Sports Injuries

When I was studying Dr T Colin Campbell’s eCornell Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition 1 , the inspirational plant-based athlete Robert Cheeke presented a module entitled Eating to Prevent Sports Injuries. Its message was so simple and powerful that I thought it worth providing a quick overview of the points he raised. You can find lots more about his amazing story (and perhaps take a look at the books he’s written) by visiting his website 2 .

Focus on the whole diet, not just individual foods

As Robert says: “You will get all the ‘real’ nutrients you need from whole plant-based foods!

By following a whole food plant-based diet, we get real nutrients and we simply cannot get these from eating processed foods, or animal-based foods:

This means we get appropriate and and perfectly balanced levels of the following:

  • macronutrients
    • fat
    • complete protein – with total volume of amino acids 3
    • carbohydrates
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • antioxidants
  • fatty acids

These are all in abundance in plant-based whole foods.

Naturally, certain foods will have superior nutrition than others, but micromanaging the diet is not something Robert thinks is either necessary or desirable. Rather, he suggests we get full nutrient density by eating a balanced whole food diet.

Optimal nutrition to prevent injury

With better overall nutrition, we’re going to help with muscle recovery and muscle repair, and it will, of course, also help provide the best amount of energy before a workout.

I’ve already covered some aspects of sports recovery in a previous blog 4 , but the subject of avoiding sports injuries in the first place, by eating a balanced plant-based diet, is worth stressing for its own sake.

Apart from anything else, avoiding injuries increases greatly the enjoyment of our training.

So what does a plant-based diet provide?

Certain plant-based whole foods have anti-inflammatory properties 5  and so reduce inflammation in our muscles. We know that processed foods 6 and animal-based foods 7 , on the other hand, are pro-inflammatory and are likely to undo some of the the gains we achieve through our efforts.

Plant foods (particularly leafy greens) are rich in nitric oxide, a vital chemical that we’ve already covered in previous blogs8 9 , and which Dr Greger further explains in relation to athletic performance 10 . It’s the nitric oxide that will “get that blood flowing better”.  Improved circulation during a workout, less sticky blood, better cell nutrition, and better movement and flexibility.

There are numerous plant based foods that will help in general, throughout our body – things like ginger root to help reduce inflammation, foods rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids (such as walnuts, flax, hemp, and chia11 . But, once again, the focus is not on specific individual foods, but just to show an example of certain foods that are great for injury prevention and muscle recovery.

Energy during a workout

Having adequate energy before a workout to make sure we get the best return on investment from the exercise session relies on eating foods that will provide both quick energy as well as long-lasting sustained energy.

Fruits are quickly absorbed and digested and will provide quick-release fuel for short energy bursts. Fruit is ideal to have just before exercise, since it will provide us with a better workout and better muscle growth stimulation as a result.

Complex carbs like potatoes, oats, brown rice, and quinoa are excellent for slower digestion and a longer lasting supply of energy. When we’re in it for the long haul, those foods are going to provide all the energy we need.

Don’t underestimate mood

Feeling positive and avoiding emotional ups and downs is one of the gifts provided free by eating a WFPB diet. Animal-based and processed foods are linked with inflammation and, in turn, inflammation is linked with depression 12 . A positive attitude helps us to maintain enthusiasm and commitment, as well as work harder.

“We are what we eat.”

Our bodies are made up of the food we eat. It’s as simple as that. By eating an optimally healthy WFPB diet, we are giving every cell in our bodies the perfect and ideal fuel that we have evolved to run on.

Eating complex carbohydrates replenishes the energy supplies that were lost through sweating. The ideal balance of amino acids in plant-foods (including beans, grains, green vegetables, nuts and seeds) will help to maintain flexibility and aid the muscle tissue repair that was put under stress during the workout.

Hydration Hydration Hydration

It’s not possible to overstate how important it is for optimum performance, injury-avoidance and after-exercise recovery to maintain high levels of hydration. Our muscles are 70% water. Our bodies are 70% water. Whole plant foods are really high in water, especially fruits and vegetables, and thus provide slow-release of the water contained within them.

Not only is hydration important in order to prevent cramping, but longer-term effects and injuries can be caused if we don’t maintain appropriate fluid levels.  Headaches and feelings of lethargy are only some of the effects that can prevent us from getting the most from our workouts.

Water can be often under-consumed, under-appreciated, overlooked, and it’s right there in perfect balance within plant-based whole foods to be consumed.

Document our progress

The best way to check whether our plant-based diet is able to repair faster, recover better, grow our muscle tissues more effectively and help us to perform better without suffering regular sports injuries is to keep a diet/exercise diary and let the facts speak for themselves.

Diet can injure – Diet can heal

You may be surprised to learn that 80% or more of all modern chronic diseases are thought to be avoidable with simple dietary and lifestyle changes 13 14 .  If food and other lifestyle changes (such as simply increasing daily exercise levels) can have such a profound effect on the development of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, then it’s easy to appreciate the important impact that diet will have on our ability to avoid sports injuries, improve recovery, and enjoy enhanced performance.


  1. Dr T Colin Campbell’s eCornell Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition []
  2. Robert Cheeke’s website []
  4. Plant-Based Diet Improves All Aspects of Sports Performance & Recovery []
  5. Inflammation. []
  6. Processed foods and inflammation. []
  7. How Does Meat Cause Inflammation? Written By Michael Greger M.D. FACLM on September 20th, 2012 []
  8. Nitric Oxide – The Most Powerful Anti-Oxidant. []
  9. Which Athlete Ate the Most Nitrates… []
  10. Vegetables Rate by Nitrate. Michael Greger M.D. FACLM February 22nd, 2012 Volume 7 []
  11. Non-Fish Sources of Omega-3 []
  12. Depression is Linked to Inflammation []
  13. The Independent: Healthy living ‘cuts chronic disease by up to 80 per cent’ []
  14. Eliminate Most of Your Chronic Disease Risk in Four Steps. Written By Michael Greger M.D. FACLM on September 22nd, 2015 []

Plant-Based Diet Improves All Aspects of Sports Performance & Recovery

It’s a pretty big statement to make that eating plants will improve sports performance (energy, strength and endurance) and recovery, especially if you look at what’s promoted in the media and elsewhere, where you see such emphasis on animal protein and an increasing push for us to consume processed energy bars and drinks. So, why would a plant-based diet be so effective?

Whole vs Processed

  • When you eat whole plant foods you consume not only fuel (carbohydrates), but also amino acids (protein), fatty acids (fat), fibre, water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and other components in just the right proportions for promoting good health. 1
  • When you consume processed and refined foods, a large proportion of these nutrients are sacrificed. You will also acquire all the toxic baggage that comes with these foods, including excess fat, protein and cholesterol, refined sugars, refined flours, artificial colours, additives, preservatives, and more. Stripping out/adding in food components ensures that you get the wrong proportions for promoting good health.

Plant Protein

  • We’ve already seen that we get enough protein if we eat enough food 2 – it’s as simple as that. The amino acids in a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables will always be sufficient to build muscle.
  • Additionally, the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that come naturally packaged with plants will ensure that we remain healthy, so we can exercise regularly and turn consistency into results.
  • If in doubt, just look at the plant-based athletes 3 4  who demonstrate so convincingly that a whole food plant-based diet results in optimal health, superb athletic performance, and impressive muscle-building.

Plants Aid Sports Recovery

  • Wholefood plant-based diets may not only enhance performance but also improve recovery due to the fact that non-animal, unprocessed foods will contain lower amounts of chemicals, toxins, harmful dietary cholesterol and fat. This is a preventative measure that means the body doesn’t have to divert resources to clean up the pollutants from within and between cells.
  • A plant-based diet supports recovery by providing a mass of phytonutrients (antioxidants and anti-inflammatories) that are unique to whole plant foods. These powerful agents deal with the free radicals that are always formed during exercise – thus helping to support the rebuilding process.
  • As we’ve already seen 5 , plants also contain all the amino acids our muscles need, so our bodies have the necessary components to build up and repair muscle after a workout.
  • Inflammation and muscle soreness can be due to poor sleep. If you’re eating a large amount of meat and animal-based foods, digestion may also be keeping you awake at night . Animal-based foods not only take double the amount of time to digest as plant-based foods, but many increase inflammation in the body known as C-reactive proteins. These contribute to inflammation, muscle soreness, and even an unhealthy heart.
  • Plant-based foods are high in raw sources of vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E to reduce inflammation and support health on all levels.

Finally, another huge benefit of getting your protein from plant-based sources is that they are relatively non-acidic compared to the more alkaline animal-based sources. An alkaline diet helps to prevent muscle wastage 6 and offers other significant health benefits 7 – all of which contribute to improved recovery.

Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density

  • As the influential plant-based athlete Robert Cheeke points out in his book ‘Plant-Based Muscle’8 , if we eat whole plant foods, we get the highest amount of nutrients we can get. Plants are the foods with the highest nutrient density, as opposed to the processed and/or animal foods that are the highest in calorie density.
  • What all those nutrients do, when consumed in balance, in the “package” they were supposed to be consumed (that is, inside whole plants like fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains… and not extracted into supplements), is that they improve athletic performance on all levels.
  • Because whole plants contain complex carbohydrates, they give a steady, continuous, long-lasting supply of energy.
  • The vast array of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory properties will also protect us from injuries.
  • We’ve looked previously at both the benefits for sports performance from eating nitrate-rich plants 9 and the importance of efficient nitric oxide production by the endothelial cells within the walls of our blood vessels 10 ; so it’s no surprise that the nitric oxide contained in the plants we consume allows us to improve blood flow and thus oxygen supply to our muscles. The result of this is that muscle-function improves.
  • Plants naturally contain lots of water, thus preventing cramping, dehydration, and related problems.

Final Thought

Have you ever stopped to think about the diets of the strongest animals on the planets – cows, elephants, gorillas, rhinos, hippos, horses, etc?

Whole plant foods.

They don’t take any supplements. They’re not deficient in protein. And although this is an anecdotal point –  since humans are a different species and so direct comparisons cannot be made with any certainty – it does make you wonder why it is that the sports, supplements, pharmaceutical and food industries all historically don’t seem to want us to just eat whole plant foods? Surely it couldn’t be that they can’t make as much profit out of healthy athletes eating plants…


  1. Forks Over Knives: How to Build Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet by Robert Cheeke.HOW-TO | OCTOBER 22, 2015. []
  2. Eat Enough Food & You Eat Enough Protein []
  3. Great Vegan Athletes: Twenty Three athletes who set World Records or became World Champions []
  4. These 14 elite athletes are vegan — here’s what made them switch their diet []
  6. J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 727630. The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health? Gerry K. Schwalfenberg. []
  7. Alkaline Diet – So What?! []
  8. Robert Cheeke: Plant-Based Muscle []
  9. Which Athlete Ate the Most Nitrates… []
  10. Greens: Chewing vs Juicing []