Mike Mahler is not someone to settle for the status quo. As his motto says, he likes to live life aggressively. Time and again in his life, when things weren’t headed what he considered to be the best direction, he made changes and optimized. He optimized kettlebells into his own system, he optimized his vegan diet to work for strength training, and now he seeks to optimize his hormones and his happiness.
Being vegan in the strength world has always been one of Mike’s unique qualities. Many people say it can’t be done or that being vegan or vegetarian inhibits performance, but Mike feels otherwise. He thinks being vegan has actually aided his success in the fitness industry:
That was something I actually came into the fitness industry with, and that was a unique selling point for me. You didn’t really see too many people who were strong and were doing a vegetarian diet, and then later for me a vegan diet. So that was one more mystique around me. People were saying, “Wow, this guy’s strong, look what he can do, and he doesn’t even eat meat!” People often ask me, “Do you think that works against you because people take you less seriously?” But actually I think it works in my favor, regardless of what people think of a vegetarian diet, because if they like it, then it works in my favor, and if they don’t like it, then it still works in my favor because they think, “Wow, if he can get that strong on that diet, imagine what I can do with this system,” while eating meat or paleo or whatever you do. So it works in my favor either way.
For Mike the main problem with nutrition isn’t which eating plan people are choosing, but whether or not they are examining their food sources. Mike encourages people to educate themselves – for their own health, and for the health of the planet – because ultimately Mike doesn’t think most people are even asking the right questions:
I think one of the biggest issues we have right now in the U.S., and of course something that no politician ever talks about, is the degrading food supply. We actually have a crisis of genetically modified foods that are proliferating and taking over the food supply, and then most of the meat people eat comes from factory farms. These are places where the animals are eating the genetically modified crops, so you’re getting it there, too. I think we’re going to see our country continue to get unhealthier because our food supply is so poor. It’s one of those things that people don’t want to talk about. We don’t have a population that’s asking the right questions, such as “What are we going to do about the food supply,” because it’s not even an issue to the average person. They’re not thinking about that.
The kinds of questions people do tend to ask are about performance and how nutrition can help their performance. Mike learned the hard way, though, that even with excellent nutrition the stresses of life and training can take an incredible toll on the body:
I went through a serious adrenal burnout back in 2003 where I nearly died from a case of pneumonia. It made me realize that just because you’re training hard and you think you have diet dialed in, that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily happy. What happened was I had too much personal life stress, too much financial stress, and then I was trying to stay on top of that by working out really hard at the same time and taking stimulants and all that. So I just crashed really hard.
That’s what got me to learn about hormone optimization, because I wanted to rebuild myself better that I ever had been before, and also learn how to balance my own energy so I don’t burn out like that again. Then as I started talking about it to friends, people were extremely interested in it. Now if I go to a friend’s party where there aren’t a lot of fitness people, and I talk about kettlebell training, nobody cares. You don’t get a lot of people saying, “Really, what’s that? A workout system? I want to learn about that!” But when we’re talking about hormone optimization and how, if you have zero sex drive and you’re holding a lot of stomach fat, and you feel like crap and have no energy, if you start getting into all these symptoms, all of a sudden you draw a huge crowd because most people feel that way. It made me realize that the average person out there feels terrible, but they think it’s normal to feel that way.
What is hormone optimization? It still starts with the basics of good food and proper exercise, but then it builds up to another level many people might not realize they have control over. Explained Mike:
You do the things that we all know to do, such as clean up your diet, get rid of the processed junk and focus on good, clean, organic food. Then you get into physical training to reduce your body fat. And then you have to look at things that are a little harder to change, such as, what kind of career are you doing? If you’re miserable in your career, it has really negative effects on your hormonal system, because the message you’re sending yourself is that your life is boring and unfulfilling. You’re not going to have a thriving hormonal environment when that’s the case. But the flip side is also true. When you start doing what you want to do, and you surround yourself with really good people that make you a better person, that has a very powerful effect on your hormonal system.
I don’t really want to be a life coach either; I don’t want to fall into that domain. I don’t want to try to tell people how to live their life. I plant that seed of “Look, if you’re miserable in your personal life or professional life, then everything else is only going to help so much. But let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s get you healthy, let’s get you strong, let’s get you physical, because when you feel empowered physically, and you feel good from the food you’re eating, and you’re sleeping well at night – which is critical for hormones as well, you don’t have anxiety now – you’re naturally going to have much more energy to take charge of other areas in your life, without someone telling you that you should or shouldn’t. It happens to all of us who really get into physical training and feel energetic and empowered. Now you start thinking, okay, I don’t want to be someone who just works out a couple times a week and feels good and has a job I hate. I want to be someone who is fulfilled across the board.
In pursuit of his own fulfillment and helping others find theirs, Mike has created a nutrition supplement wing to his business. While good eating and exercise are the foundation for hormone optimization, due to the declining qualities of foods, sometimes a little boost is needed. Explained Mike:
I designed a topical magnesium MSM zinc product this year that’s doing really well. I have an herbal-based testosterone booster that will be out probably before the end of the year; it’s something I’ve been working on for awhile. These are things that don’t take the place of any of the things I just mentioned [nutrition and exercise], but help add extra fire to that, to make sure that people achieve their goals, and enjoy their workouts, and get more benefit from what they’re doing.
Ultimately Mike does believe that in each of us is a happiness waiting to emerge, if we treat our bodies properly, if we ask ourselves the right question. His slogan, “Live Life Aggressively,” isn’t about being angry or only about strength training. It’s about seizing the life and opportunities in front of you, which requires exploration of what’s inside you. Said Mike:
It’s about taking charge of your life on multiple fronts. What you learn from physical training, whether it’s kettlebells training or any discipline, using that and taking it and applying it to other aspects of your life, whether it’s personal life, your community, your professional life, etc. I think that’s really the most important thing I can get out there, is to encourage people to have that inner self dialogue, where they actually think about their life instead of just distracting themselves and get them thinking, “Hey, is this the life I want live, and if it isn’t what can I do about it,” instead of, “Yeah, well I’m miserable, but everyone I know is miserable too, so let’s all be miserable together.”
To learn more about how Mike discovered kettlebells:
Photos courtesy of Jess McDougall.