We’re honored today to have the awesome vegan strength coach Mike Mahler as our guest. A true role model, Mike is full of insights and experiences we can all learn from.
Athlegan coach Bartosz had a chat with Mike:
Hi, Mike! Thank you very much for your time. I hope you are well and the whole situation with COVID-19 is not too stressful for you. Are people in the US also burning 5G masts as they are in the UK?
All is well over here in Las Vegas. My business has not been too negatively affected by the shutdown so I feel very fortunate.
I had a horrible flu last year in March which turned into pneumonia so that puts me in a higher risk category for surviving Covid-19. However, I made respiratory health a priority after recovering which by the way took several months so I feel in tip-top shape to deal with the virus if I am unfortunate enough to be infected. So I am not too stressed.
Many people in the US are definitely wearing the mask and I feel like I am on a set for MASH or Gray’s anatomy every time I go to the grocery store!
From the latest, you and Sincere Hogan just started the second season of “Live Life Aggressively Show”. The podcast is not just a fitness show. You had quite a big variety of guests on it. From writers, comedians, therapeutics, or people running sanctuaries for animals, to real-life heroes like Ty Ritter. Can you please tell us what was the reason to come back and what separates you from other podcasts available?
I think you answered it better in your question than I could with any answer. The show is all about delivering interesting conversations. Health and hormone optimization are strong components of the show but we would get bored if that is all we talked about a week after week as both Sincere and myself have a myriad of interests.
My favorite aspect of the show is bringing awareness to charitable causes such as Ty Ritter’s Project Child Save and Melya Kaplan’s Voice For The Animals Foundation. We will definitely highlight more charitable causes in future episodes as well as keep bringing the best in the business to share their expertise on a variety of topics.
We decided to come back as we both missed doing the show. We had a listener favorite on the show Jerry Brainum earlier this week and we had a fun conversation for over three hours! No guest is going to stay on for that long if they are not enjoying the conversation. If we are having fun, most likely the listener will as well.
Looking at your website and your work there is a lot of aggressiveness but it is not meant as violence. Do you think people lack it these days? Do you think they are just cruising through life and not trying to grab and squeeze something out of it?
One of the meanings of aggressive is to move forward with a strong purpose and that is what my motto Live Life Aggressively is all about. I would say most people at least in the developed world are cruising through life and have not found a higher calling or something that excites them for a career.
I was that person myself until I got laid off from the last job I ever had in 2002. I was making decent money but was bored out of my mind and felt tired all the time and it wasn’t from hard work. I understand what it is like to feel like you are just floating through life and the stress that can come with feeling like things will never change. It is a horrible place to be in and just thinking about it can be depressing.
I wrote my book Live Life Aggressively! What Self-help Gurus Should Be Telling You back in 2011 to inspire people to take charge of their lives and have the courage to live fully. I have had many readers over the years tell me that it was they needed to move their life in a new direction which is very gratifying to hear.
You are the best known as a “kettlebell guy” but your focus has shifted over the years. It is more likely to hear you talking about hormonal optimization than strength training. What was the main reason for you to look more into this topic?
I enjoyed teaching kettlebell training from 2002 to around 2013 but I was getting burned out with all of the traveling and the repetitive nature of teaching the same material over and over again. After teaching a few courses in 2015 I realized it is not something I enjoy anymore and if you don’t enjoy it and don’t have to do it to pay the bills then what is the point?
I got into the industry as fitness has been a passion of mine since I was 18 and I wanted to make a living doing something I actually enjoy. Just because you enjoyed something for a while doesn’t mean you will enjoy it forever and when you no longer enjoy it, it is time to move on to something else.
I am fortunate that I was building my supplement business at the same time that I was teaching and in 2014 my supplement business hit a strong growth phase so it was a fairly seamless transition.
If someone would like to educate himself on hormones, what are your favourite sources to go to and start from?
You can get my 8-hour hormone optimization lecture series! I also have tons of articles people can check out for free on my site. Via the articles and the course, readers and listeners will be exposed to the best books on the topic and industry experts to learn more from.
We have also had many hormone optimization experts on the LLA show and I have an article with links to every hormone optimization episode.
The other thing is that there is plenty of info on the internet which contradicts the opinions of others. How do you separate true from false?
I think health and fitness information is more complex than true or false. Meaning just because one style of eating works for you doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Just because one training program worked well for you doesn’t mean others will experience the same benefits.
Whenever someone says they have the best training and nutrition information and that nothing else works as well that is a red flag that they are not on the level and committed to what is best for the client.
There are many different paths to get to the same place so through research and experience, which are both essential, people will eventually figure out what works best for them if they stay the course long enough.
One thing to consider is: does the person you are getting advice from embody what he/she is professing? What you see is not always what you get but in the context of health and fitness it is a pretty good indicator if the advice being conveyed is worth following.
I am not going to take advice from someone who is not rich on how to get rich and I wouldn’t take advice from someone on how to be strong and fit who isn’t.
How can we look after our hormonal balance and not end up with 100 different products to take every hour? Where to start and when enough supplements are enough?
This is where working with a legitimate expert pays big dividends. Through an analysis of blood work looking at vitamins, minerals, hormones and other indicators of optimal health, a personalized plan can be designed for you that fits your precise needs. Otherwise it is a guessing game.
If I wanted to drive from one side of America to the other, I am not going to get in the car and just start driving and hope I make it. I am going to figure out the best routes to take and alternate routes as well if needed so I know where I am going.
There is a lot of BROSCIENCE on the internet and I guess you came across a lot of bullshit doing research for your supplement line. What was your key to filter the information? What should be a red light while going through the literature?
I am fortunate to know many experts in the industry so though a combination of my own research, personal experience with products, and discussions with others I was able to determine what will likely be most effective.
Also, keep in mind I never had a plan to get into the supplement industry and make my own formulas. I have been using supplements since 1992 and have always been intrigued by the idea that you can take something that improves performance. While I had a strong interest in learning about supplements and test driving various products, it wasn’t something in which I decided one day that is the industry I want to get into.
Me and my friend, Anthony Roberts, who introduced me to some of the ingredients in my Aggressive Strength Testosterone Booster, originally worked together to design a natural testosterone booster for another company. They dragged their heels and we both got tired of being messed around so one day I was walking my dogs and it hit me that I should design the product for my own company and sell it directly to the customer and the rest, as they say, is history.
I have been using most of the ingredients in Aggressive Strength since 2010 so I knew the combination of herbs works very well for me and the majority of others who tried the same formula also noticed tremendous benefits so I was confident that it would be a big hit when it finally came out in 2013.
We all know that testosterone boosters and fat burners are as effective as penis enlargement pills but you were able to design a supplement that works. What is the difference between your product and what’s available on the market?
One thing you have to realize is most supplement companies don’t care about making products that actually work. They want large margins and spend more on promotion and advertising than designing an effective product.
This is one of the reasons why the supplement industry has such a negative reputation and for good reason. I understand all too clearly why so many are skeptical of any supplement being beneficial.
I have a much different philosophy when it comes to designing and selling supplements.
The most important thing is that the product actually works. If the product works, people will not only be repeat buyers but will tell everyone they know and this alone is more effective than any marketing or advertising campaign in the long run.
Many supplement companies assume that potential customers are idiots and if they use the right buzzwords and have some pretty ladies in the ads they will buy their products. This may work one time, but if the products don’t work then they are not going to get any repeat business, and eventually, their businesses will fold. I have seen this happen many times.
Regular supplement users such as myself want to know if the product works or not. If it works then they will be happy to keep buying it. If not, they will move on.
Not every supplement is going to work for everyone so ethical companies have some kind fo hassle-free money-back guarantee.
For example, with my company, the first bottle of any product is risk-free. Try it for thirty days, if you are not happy, shoot me an email and let me know and you will get a refund. However, don’t buy five bottles, use all five, then complain that it doesn’t work and expect a refund. My refund policy is clear so don’t be an opportunist.
Not only is it important to me that a supplement works, but it is also paramount that it works for me. Every product I have is something I use personally and have benefited from tremendously. Otherwise, I would not bother going through the numerous headaches and financial risks that are involved with launching a product.
You went vegan before it was cool. How do you remember your first days being plant-based? How was veganism seen in States in your youth days?
I have been vegetarian since I was 14 and transitioned to a vegan diet when I was 20 back in 1994.
Vegetarian is not that difficult as that generally means eggs and dairy are acceptable so that leaves a lot of options on the table. However, being a vegan in 1994 was definitely a challenge.
I lived in Portland, Oregon at the time which is a much more progressive city than most in the USA so that helped a great deal. I was also a student at Lewis and Clark College back then and the school cafeteria had plenty of vegan options which was extremely rare for the time. In fact, I had never heard the term vegan until I went to Lewis and Clark College.
I wouldn’t say veganism was looked down upon back then because most people had no idea what veganism even was. However, being a vegetarian was associated with being a peace-loving hippie that likes to smoke weed all day. It wasn’t seen as something you could do and be healthy and certainly not thrive on as an athlete or fitness enthusiast.
That said, I had been lifting weights for many years by the time I was in college and had a pretty good physique and was pretty strong so I found most people to be respectful and even impressed that I could make it work.
Training and diet
You are in your 40s now but you are still training hard. What does your routine look like now?
Right now I am more focused on respiratory health and heart health, especially with the pandemic we are all dealing with. I have a gym-quality elliptical machine at my house and get in three 20-30 minute interval training sessions per week.
I started focusing on respiratory and heart health after the horrible flu/pneumonia I had last year and I am glad I did as the last thing I want is a compromised respiratory system and high blood pressure with all that is going out there.
I still lift weights of course and have a nice set-up at the house including a trapbar, barbell, kettlebells, etc.
Are you chasing after any goals right now? I remember you were going for a 600 pounds deadlift some time ago. How did it go?
I pulled six hundred pounds with the trap bar in 2018 and 585lbs with a barbell. I am not focused on barbell deadlifting six hundred pounds right now but will definitely focus on that sometime this year.
Right now, I am just putting in work, improving technique, and enjoying the training. I don’t want to train too hard and compromise my immune system or get injured so I am not gunning for any PRs right now.
I do a few workouts per week which is usually a focus on the trapbar deadlift, kettlebell presses, rows with kettlebells or a barbell, and then some core work.
You are an advanced athlete and you recover like an advanced athlete. What are your main strategies to bring your recovery to the highest level? Do you cycle different modalities or do you have your regiment that always works?
I make it a priority to get eight hours of deep sleep every night. This is a must for hormone optimization and optimal recovery. Look at anyone that is sleep deprived for an extended period of time and they almost always look many years older than their biological age.
Sleep is crucial and not valued in our hustle and overworked society. However, if you don’t prioritize it, it will be to your own detriment. Not a matter of if but when.
I am obsessed with hormone optimization and work hard to ensure my testosterone, DHEA, growth hormone, insulin, and cortisol levels, etc are all in the optimal ranges. This makes a tremendous impact on training recovery and overall health and wellness.
With regard to training, one thing I picked up from my first kettlebell instructor Pavel Tsatsouline is the importance of not training to failure. Leave a few reps in the bank and you will come out of each workout more refreshed and not have to take a week off between intense sessions. A higher frequency approach with an avoidance of training to failure works very well in particular for improving strength and performance.
How does your diet change along the years? Has it changed with your age?
My diet, for the most part, is the same. I focus on legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, mushrooms, and some starches such as sweet potatoes and yams.
I have always found I do better with a good amount of healthy fats in my diet but like a balance of all three macronutrients. If your dietary fat intake drops below 20% of overall calories it will likely have a negative impact on testosterone production so I like to keep it at 30% of overall calories.
I don’t avoid carbohydrates, which would be close to impossible on a vegan diet anyway, but I prioritize legumes which have a good amount of carbohydrates as well as protein and nuts and seeds, which also have a good amount of protein, some carbs, and an abundance of healthy fats. Legumes combined with nuts and seeds work very well for me.
A big, strong vegan guy
You are not a regular guy. You have finished a religious study, you are strong, big, and muscular and on the top of it you are vegan. Are people confused when discovering all those qualities in you?
Haha I am sure they are. I don’t have a vegan tattoo on my forehead so not everyone realizes I am vegan until they get to know me or read my articles on the topic on my website.
Many are definitely surprised when they find out but are also impressed and often ask a lot of questions on how I make it work.
When you are a fairly muscular guy, many assume you’re not that intelligent and must spend all of your time at the gym doing hundreds of sets of dumbbell curls. However, I think that misconception is changing as well as being strong and fit is a lot cooler than it used to be and many people with all kinds of backgrounds engage in intense training and like having a powerful looking physique.
There is a strong philosophical component that is infused in my work and that is definitely from my religious studies background in which I focused on Sufism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
However, if someone had to guess what my degree is in I doubt too many if any would guess religious studies. I actually decided to major in religious studies because it was surprisingly very interesting to me and one thing about me is I only do well with things I actually care about.
I couldn’t have made it through a four-year degree studying a topic I could care less about.
Once I found something that lit up my spirit, I not only enjoyed the courses I was taking but also earned high marks as a side effect, not the primary motivation.
Patrik Baboumian said that he is strong through his compassion. You are quite compassionate and driven guy too; supporting many causes and making donations. Where does all of this come from?
I am always surprised how few make donations to Project Child Save after hearing about all the amazing work he and his team do to rescue kids from unimaginable suffering. I mean why wouldn’t someone want to support an organization that rescues kids from sex slavery and human trafficking in which no one on the team takes a dime from any donation? When you make a donation to Project Child Save 100% off the donation goes to fund the missions so it should be a no brainer.
Some people just don’t care about the suffering of other beings. They don’t care if their actions further the suffering of other beings and only care about what they want regardless of the cost.
Part of this is from being programmed at an early age to pursue materialism and that you are nothing if you don’t achieve a certain level of status in the hierarchy.
Thus, so many are burning the candle on both ends to impress people they will never meet and don’t have any energy left over to think about how they can help others. Many after achieving a high level or even moderate level of material success realize how unsatisfying it is and some think they just need to acquire more to realize happiness but it never works.
I do think this is changing. I see more and more companies with a visible charitable component. One example is the sock company Bombas. For every pair of socks they sell, they donate a pair to help homeless people. More and more companies have some kind of charitable philosophy and I think this will continue to grow rapidly.
Many never realize that true happiness and fulfillment comes from improving the lives of others. For some people it is helping other people, for some it is helping animals, and then for some it is helping both.
It’s all good and I think everyone should find causes to support either with financial donations, volunteer work, or fundraising.
Donate to project Project Save Child and help save a little boy or girl from sexual slavery today. Just $5 makes a difference!
You are very vocal about the masculinity crisis; the mental and physical condition of many men nowadays. Why this subject is so important to you? Are you not worried you’ll be one of the victims of the war on men for talking too much about it?
I think masculine energy has to be harnessed in positive and productive ways for a man to feel at his best.
Whenever someone bullies another or gets into a fight at a bar, you’ll hear comments that this person has too much testosterone. In reality, it is most likely someone with not enough testosterone and or too much conversion to estrogen that is trying to overcompensate.
In my experience optimal testosterone and more importantly an optimal hormone profile, in general, makes me more confident, compassionate, and calm. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone and that is a very reassuring feeling.
I don’t think being a strong and confident man is about being a jerk that is abusive to others. A healthy man will have a strong desire to succeed and project strength and that is why it is important to be physically strong and fit in addition to being intelligent and compassionate.
It is in our DNA to pursue physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental strength as it is for women as well so let’s take measures to bring out the best in all people regardless of gender instead of demonizing one gender.
Masculinity is not to blame for men that are abusive and violent as most men are not either. If masculinity made one inherently violent and abusive then a high percentage of men would be violent criminals and that is not the case. Focusing on masculinity as the problem is an oversimplification at best and more importantly a totally flawed line of thinking.
Women can be abusive and violent as well but no one ever makes a blanket statement that femininity is the problem when they are and nor should they as it would be unfair and inaccurate. However, when men are violent and abusive it is seen as a problem with masculinity that needs to be addressed.
Now I am not saying that every man has to act a certain way to be considered masculine. People should be whatever they want to be as long as they are not hurting others. if you are happy with who you are then more power to you.
I would never tell a transgender woman that she does not have a right to live the life she wants on her terms and that because she is biologically a male should act like what society expects of men.
Life is too long to be something your not and too short to waste a minute being unhappy in your own skin.
We are not going to be able to address the root causes of abuse and violence in society without pulling back the layers and avoiding oversimplifications such as masculinity is evil and needs to be obliterated.
I think it is important for men to be a model of the best of what masculinity can offer. Be strong, fit, intelligent, and kind and make that the new model of what masculinity is. This is something I work hard to embody and be an example of.