Where do you get your protein? - Hench Herbivore
Youtuber and Instagram influencer, Paul Kerton, A.K.A. Hench Herbivore, chats to us about eating for health, advocacy and New Year fitness goals
Paul Kerton, or, Hench Herbivore, as most people will know him, is a muscle-bound vegan health, fitness and advocacy machine. For almost 10 years, Paul has used his plant-powered physique and nutritional wisdom to try to help people to understand that veganism is the way forward. Yet, even Paul, a long-time competing bodybuilder and personal trainer, still gets that pesky question many of us will have heard - 'Where do you get your protein?'! We chat to the YouTuber and Instagram influencer Hench Herbivore about why and how he became vegan, and about the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet.
Hey, Paul! Tell us about your journey to veganism.
It all started in Summer 2012. My fiancée Gemma had been researching how nutrition may be optimised to help with illness. She has Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that affected her so badly that she couldn't get out of bed some days. Through research she discovered the concept of a whole foods plant-based diet. She also learned the fact that the more animal products that we eat, the more likely we succumb to the 'diseases of affluence' - heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
At the time, I was eating more animal products than anyone else I've ever met. She looked at me with fear in her eyes. \"You need to change,\" she said. Having looked at the data, I too then shared her concern. I wanted to be big and strong, but I did NOT want to be the orchestrator of my own death.
I decided to eat the vast majority of my diet as whole plant-foods, but kept in a few servings of meat and fish per week... Partly, I was concerned that there may be some nutrients missing from my diet if I dropped animal products completely. And also, perhaps even more importantly, I was concerned that I would lose my hard-earned muscle mass.
For the longest time, my identity has been attached to my muscles. If I'm honest, I was VERY scared about dropping meat and dairy. Turns out I needn't have worried - my health and sports performance flourished. I lost the taste for animal flesh and having really researched nutrition I learned that there is ZERO need to eat animal products, so I was very glad to not eat them anymore.
It was probably a couple of years before I came across the ethical argument for veganism. I stumbled upon Gary Yourofsky's excellent adaptt.org website and saw a video that would forever change me. In the video, a cow was being corralled toward the slaughterhouse. Her fear was palpable, but a man kept her moving forward. I could see that, emotionally, she was no different to me.
It was as though she knew what was coming. I was shocked and horrified. I couldn't believe that I had put so many animals through that ordeal. The end of the video was not very graphic, but still, I was in pieces. I vowed there and then to do everything I could to spread the vegan message.
\"We can prevent 14 of the 15 leading causes of death, treat most and possibly even reverse some through nutrition alone\"
When did you first get into fitness and bodybuilding?
My first real love, fitness-wise was martial arts which I started at age 15. I became a karate instructor and coached self-protection for many years. Fairly soon after starting martial arts I also got into bodybuilding. The martial arts served me well and I will be forever grateful to them. However, in recent years I've stopped training in them to focus on physique training, which I consider a more useful method of vegan advocacy. After all, 'Where do you get your protein?' is still the main question that I get! So much so, that I even used that phrase as the title for my cookbook.
What are the benefits of eating a plant-based diet for health and physical fitness?
Health-wise, the benefits are many and we have a lot of great data to back them up. According to the research scientists at the fabulous nutritionfacts.org we can prevent 14 of the 15 leading causes of death, treat most and possibly even reverse some through nutrition alone. I feel that I should point out that here that I am referring to a whole foods plant-based diet, avoiding all animal products and processed plant-foods such as oil, refined sugar, refined flour, etc. \"Where do you get your protein?' is still the main question that I get!\"
The fitness benefits are not so well documented in the literature. However, in one recent study vegan athletes were put head to head with omnivorous ones. The strength athletes showed no benefit or detriment, but the vegan endurance athletes were shown to perform on average 30 per cent better.
They did not try to determine why this might be, but from my perspective I would wager that the increased carbohydrate load (our body's preferred fuel source) that most vegans enjoy along with increased vasodilation from nitrate-rich beetroot and leafy greens very likely played a part.
Tell us about your business as a personal trainer and nutritional advisor. Why did you start?
I got so much from fitness training that I wanted to give something back and help others to gain the same benefits. Being in good shape, I found it easy to gain PT clients. As a PT your physique really is your business card.
Once I discovered the power of eating whole plant-foods, I decided to become a nutritionist also, so I could pass this knowledge on, too. Seeing people develop the body of their dreams or come off medications and gain a new lease of life is one of the best feelings imaginable!
What advice do you have for people setting New Year fitness goals?
Pick something that is attainable. So many people shoot for the moon when resolve and motivation are high, only to fall off in the first week or two having realised they have bitten off far more than they can chew.
Recognise where you are in terms of fitness; start off easy and increase the intensity week by week - a little at a time as your new level of fitness allows. Perhaps set bite-size monthly goals, so that the overall goal does not seem so daunting!
Another little trick that I think works well, is to hold yourself accountable. Share your goal with someone close to you or even post for all to see on social media, then provide regular updates. It may help keep you on track where otherwise you might have given up.
What are your tried-and-tested favourite food sources of plant-based protein?
Despite meat-eater rhetoric to the contrary, all whole plant-foods contain all essential amino acids (albeit in varying ratios). By eating a range of whole plant-foods, protein should really look after itself. But for those with elevated protein needs, such as strength and physique athletes, it would be wise to highlight lentils, chickpeas, split peas, a myriad of beans and tempeh.
Whole grains, such as quinoa and amaranth have large amounts of protein. For optimal health, it would be best to stick to the above, but for athletes looking to optimise their physique it may be beneficial to add in a little of the more processed foods, like a powder (I personally use and recommend the Vivo Life brand for its quality and ethical/environmental practices), tofu, seitan and textured vegetable protein.
Where are your favourite places to eat out?
We're a bit spoiled in Norwich where I live currently, as we were recognised as the UK's most vegan city, with the most vegan-friendly restaurants per capita. My two faves are Erpingham House (the UK's largest vegan restaurant, erpinghamhouse.com) and Namaste Village (namasteindiannorwich.com), a vegan/vegetarian restaurant voted East Anglia's best Indian for three years in a row!
In your opinion, what are the best ways to advocate veganism?
I say to play to your strengths. In my case it IS my strength and size. I go into health a lot also because I am so well versed. I also adore the medium of video, hence most of my efforts are through YouTube. It's important though to know your audience. What drives them?
My main piece of advice though, is not to think that it's our job to turn people vegan on the spot. That way we can come across far too pushy. And never show anger or frustration. Humans are tribal (herd) animals. We need to make our tribe look as positive as possible.
Any exciting projects on the horizon for 2021?
Yes, very much so! I'm currently collaborating with others on a truly visionary new business, which I believe will have the ability to jumpstart veganism/ whole plant-foods' nutrition on a global scale.
It will use a multipronged approach to meet people where they are in terms of their commitment and the amount of time and energy they wish to put into their diet (without the compromising health effects of most vegan convenience foods), make life much simpler for them, and help inspire them to progress through quality content by leveraging celebrity and engaging technology. I can't say too much more at this stage but please follow me on my socials for more exciting news as it develops!
\"Vegan endurance athletes were shown to perform on average 30 per cent better\"
What are your hopes your 2021, for yourself as Hench Herbivore and for veganism?
I personally just want to make the best use of myself as an ambassador for the cause, so I hope our new business helps to accelerate the awakening of the masses to veganism, and inspires current vegans who are possibly not eating the healthiest diet to try more whole food plantbased options.
Either way, I'm very confident that veganism will continue to enjoy its rapid expansion as more and more people are exposed to the truth about animal agriculture. And, of course, the growing abundance of delicious vegan food options!