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Fitness & Health

29th Jan 2019

Vegan bodybuilder explains how he built muscle without meat

Paul Kerton is a vegan bodybuilder better known by his 'Hench Herbivore' moniker. He is challenging the idea that plant-based muscle building isn’t possible

Alex Roberts

Vegan bodybuilder

‘Not bad for a lettuce muncher!’

Paul Kerton laughs as he completes a third set of wide-grip lat pulldowns, in which the entire machine was stacked.

Kerton is best known by his ‘Hench Herbivore’ moniker on social media. With a rapidly-growing fanbase, he is keen to challenge the preconception many have about vegans as being hippyish and not cut out for strength training.

Although he has 30 years experience in bodybuilding, since turning vegan eight years ago Kerton’s stock has never been higher. He has carved out a niche providing practical training and nutrition advice to vegans wanting to pack on muscle and strength.

I travelled to Norwich to train with Kerton at Phoenix Gym, a fifteen minute walk from the city’s train station. Formerly a nightclub bouncer, Kerton has worked as a personal trainer at Phoenix Gym for many years but now devotes much of his time to the Hench Herbivore YouTube channel.

Hench Herbivore Vegan Bodybuilder

The vegan YouTube community was once dominated by yoga practitioners and Newton Faulker types, radicals who spent more time decrying others than they did imparting top drawer weight lifting advice.

Kerton’s willingness to help rather than belittle – as well as his bodybuilding prowess – is an example of how the YouTube community is changing. Veganism is now being embraced by all walks of life, from athletes and celebrities to bodybuilders alike.

Back and traps with the vegan bodybuilder

Kerton’s gym is unique in that it combines new approaches to fitness and HIIT training with a warehouse feel to the weights room.

There are a multitude of machines available with the potential of hitting each muscle group from a variety of different angles.

For bodybuilders such as Kerton, this is essential. Budget gyms with less equipment can often present suboptimal workouts.

Thursday was back and traps day, so our session included the following exercises:

  • Seated Cable Row
  • Wide-Grip Machine Row
  • V-Grip Lat Pulldown
  • Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
  • Barbell Shrugs
  • Behind-The-Back Shrugs

All back exercises were performed for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps. The latter lifts targeting the traps were of a higher rep range, between 15 and 20 reps.

There seemed to be no sign that Kerton was lacking in strength or in dire need of animal protein as he proceeded to perform a Seated Row with the highest weight increment available.

Although the workout was built around rows and pulling movements, each exercise was performed with a slightly different grip or cable attachment.

This was done to target distinct muscles in the back such as the infraspinatus and teres major, with the wider grip lifts placing particular stress on the lats.

After our session ended, we sunk a protein shake comprising bio-fermented pea protein, cinnamon and ground banana. It was slightly grainier than your typical whey shake, but tasted great nonetheless.

We then headed to nearby vegan restaurant where we discussed plants and muscle power in greater depth.

What originally persuaded you to go vegan?

“To be honest, I just went vegan because I didn’t want to be the cause of my own death. A couple of years later, after researching different types of recipes, I stumbled across what was being done to animals.”

How do you get enough protein in your diet as a vegan?

“I like to eat as many whole foods as possible – legumes are the superstars, but chickpeas, lentils, split peas, plus a myriad of different beans.”

How would you respond to claims that plant-based diets are still causing harm, given they are often all an animal eats?

“I’d tell them – who’s eating the most crops? A few thousand vegans, or 140 billion farmed animals?”

What impact do you believe going vegan has had on your health?

“My blood pressure has dropped to the optimal level for health. I’ve reversed my hay fever, my tendonitis has improved and my eyesight has too. My prescription has improved over the years.”

What is your beef with traditional bodybuilding foods such as chicken and steak?

“When we cook these meats, we create heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are linked to an increased risk of disease.

“When we eat plant foods, your body benefits from a long list of health-promoting nutrients.”

How has being a vegan bodybuilder affected your recovery from training?

“Before becoming vegan, I would complete a 45-minute long workout as an omnivorous eater but then come home and crash.

“Now, I train five times a week for an hour and a half to two hours and I’ve just got energy in abundance.”

What is the purpose of your YouTube channel?

“I previously got bored of bodybuilding as a meat eater. But then people looked up to me as a vegan while sporting a bodybuilder’s physique, so that’s really inspired me and I want to show people that it can be done.”

Watch the video below:

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