Norwich personal trainer Paul Kerton on how going vegan changed his life

Personal trainer and vegan nutrionist Paul Kerton, aka Hench Herbivore, says he once ate more meat a

Personal trainer and vegan nutrionist Paul Kerton, aka Hench Herbivore, says he once ate more meat and animals products than anyone else he has ever met but a whole foods plant-based diet has made him stronger and healthier. Picture: Claire O'Hara - Credit: Archant

At first sight, former doorman and bodybuilder Paul Kerton doesn’t look like the kind of man who dines on borlotti beans, broccoli and flaxseeds.

Could you enjoy a vegan diet this Veganuary, and maybe beyond?
PICTURE: Getty Images

Could you enjoy a vegan diet this Veganuary, and maybe beyond? PICTURE: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

At first sight, former doorman and bodybuilder Paul Kerton doesn’t look like the kind of man who dines on borlotti beans, broccoli and flaxseeds.

But appearances can be deceptive.

For almost six years Paul has been a stereotype-defying, cliché-challenging vegan who would never dream of going back to guzzling the copious litres of cows’ milk and munching on the stacks of chicken breast that used to make up his daily diet.

His transformation from meat-consuming muscle man to plant-eating personal trainer has been so complete that he has become a champion of exploding any lingering myths about vegans, once caricatured as a bunch of pasty-faced, sandal-wearing weaklings but now seeing their lifestyle enjoy a huge growth in popularity

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Paul runs Hench Herbivore Personal Training, advising clients on the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet and says that since ‘veganising’ his business he has never been more in demand.

He has spent six months training with 2014 Mr Universe Barny du Plessis, who went vegan too, has done a vegan nutrition plan for Norwich City and Scotland footballer Russell Martin, spoken to millions across the globe on the BBC World Service’s Newshour and has a cameo role in forthcoming James Cameron-produced documentary the Game Changers, which tells the story of an elite special forces trainer as he travels the world “on a quest for the truth behind the world’s most dangerous myth: that meat is necessary for protein, strength and optimal health”.

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Norwich-based Paul has been vegan since 2012, changing his diet after becoming concerned about the health effects of eating animal products and reading The China Study, a book examining the relationship between the consumption of animal products and chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and bowel cancer.

“My fiancee Gemma made the switch first, all-but curing the Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis that for years had left her tired and miserable,” he says. “In the beginning I was resistant, believing the lies that meat is essential for muscle growth or if we don’t have dairy our bones will somehow fall apart.

“I have never met anyone who has eaten more meat and consumed more animal produce than I used to consume. I was worried about how I would get on with changing my diet so completely but within the first year of being vegan my eyesight improved, I cured my tendonitis and hay fever and I had more energy and better recovery from gym training. Six months into being vegan, far from ruining my training I was the strongest I’d ever been.”

“I was already a personal trainer but came to the point where I felt I couldn’t advise people to eat meat so I decided to ‘veganise’ my business. I train omnivores as well as vegans and tell people what calories they need to eat but advise specifically on vegan nutrition.”

Although animal welfare wasn’t a driving force for Paul initially, it has become important since he inadvertently saw some slaughterhouse footage while researching vegan recipes.

“There has been a huge growth in veganism and I believe it is unstoppable now,” he says. “People don’t want to hurt animals and realise they don’t need to eat them. I’ve seen some incredible health results in my clients too, from reversing Type 2 diabetes to rejuvenating a badly diseased liver.

“The diet I advocate is a whole foods, plant-based diet. Anything deviating from that gets more unhealthy. I eat a lot of legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds and supplement vitamin B12. This is a diet everyone can benefit from.”

For more information visit Paul also has a Hench Herbivore YouTube channel.

What I learned during Veganuary

According to the Vegan Society, veganism (a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods and products) is one of Britain’s fastest growing lifestyle movements. In May 2016 research found the number of vegans in Britain had risen by more than 360% in a decade (from 150,000 to 542,000).

There’s even a Veganuary campaign to get people to go vegan for January (and maybe beyond), highlighting the health, animal welfare and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. So, having been largely vegetarian (avoiding meat but eating dairy and eggs) for almost 30 years, I decided to give it a go. Here’s what I’ve learned so far...

It’s not so easy if you like cheese: There are dairy-free replacements but, well, they’re not cheese. On the other hand, I probably need to eat less cheese so I will persevere...

Cows’ milk alternatives are an acquired taste: I’ve tried cutting cows’ milk out before - the life of a dairy cow troubles me and I don’t particularly like the taste anyway. I’ve always failed, largely because I like the taste of soya even less. Nowadays there are lots of other types of plant ‘milk’. My favourite is almond but it still makes my tea taste slightly odd. I resolve to drink more tea to get used to the new taste. By the 10th cup, it appears to be working.

There are health risks too: Protein, calcium and vitamin B12 are vital for health and you must think about how you’re going to replace them if giving up meat, dairy and eggs (although vegans point out many meat eaters can be deficient in these vital nutrients too). Vegan sources of protein are nuts, seeds, beans and lentils as well as fermented soy products and protein powders. As far as calcium’s concerned, many cultures around the world don’t consume dairy and have good bone health but you still need to make sure you’re getting enough from vegan sources. The same is true for vitamin B12, which is vital for blood, brain and nervous system health.

Vegan foods are tasty: This may come as a surprise to committed carnivores but eating a vegan diet is enjoyable and has more going for it than virtue alone.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing: My Veganuary hasn’t been a total success. I’ve had frequent lapses, some accidental, some down-right intentional, and haven’t done enough to feel the health benefits yet. It’s a work in progress. And that’s all right.

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