Paul Kerton the 'Hench Herbivore' from Norwich
PUBLISHED: 13:33 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:37 12 March 2019
Paul Kerton can truly say that he gets his muscles from Brussels... and broccoli and kale and pulses and, well, pretty much all vegetables. Tracey Bagshaw popped into his Norwich gym for a chat
Better known to his thousands of YouTube followers as the Hench Herbivore, personal trainer Paul Kerton maintains his traffic-stopping physique on a strict vegan diet. No steak. No milk. No eggs. And definitely no vegan sausage rolls...
“I’ve never had one and I’m not going to have one,” he says, with a shudder. “I don’t eat any processed junk food. It’s all clean and fresh.” A vegan since 2012, Norwich-based Paul thinks he has eaten more animals than anyone he knows – and the thought horrifies him now.
“I’d get through 10 kilos of chicken and 42 pints of milk a week, eggs, tuna, steaks... I had to chuck it down. I thought that was the only way to build muscle,” he says.
A self-confessed ‘weedy child’, Paul started martial arts in order to learn how to stand up for himself, soon moving on to weight-training and body-building. Working as a doorman, he was a big target for anyone looking for trouble, but his dramatic U-turn came when his partner, Gemma, tried a wholefood vegan diet to help her with health issues.
“I saw her do it and I saw her flourish,” he says. “So I read up on it and saw that a wholefood diet could help with, and often even reverse, some diseases so I thought I’d try it. It’s the best thing I ever did.
“My eyesight has improved. My optician said it must be the diet because they can’t see any other reason. I had tendonitis and that went, and I don’t have hay fever any more. I also have so much more energy. I train for around one-and-a-half hours, five times a week, and when I’ve finished I’m still raring to go!”
Ultimately, he says, we all get our protein from plant sources as the animals we eat are all herbivores – hench or otherwise. Eating a wholefood vegan diet means cutting out the middle man – or cow, sheep or pig. And he believes we are psychologically more inclined to follow a plant-based diet.
“If we were on a desert island we wouldn’t have claws or fangs to kill anything so we’d have to look around. To get to a nut takes a lot of effort but there are all these fruits and vegetables right there... The smell of fruit can make us drool, raw meat doesn’t. If we see blood we have a totally different response, one of horror – whereas a carnivorous predator would drool.”
Where eating used to be a chore, the 45-year-old now enjoys his food – so much so he is hard-pressed to think of something he would consider as a treat. “Because I don’t eat oily, sugary monstrosities my tastebuds are very tuned in and everything I eat is so delicious... maybe a perfect honey mango,” he says, after a long, thoughtful pause.
His perfect meal is balanced – and colourful. “I want a legume, some wholegrain or maybe a tuber like a sweet potato,” he says. “Half will be different coloured vegetables, leafy greens for minerals and vitamin K. There will be fats from some nuts and fruits, then lots of herbs and spices, such as turmeric, sprinkled over it.”
And while there are vegan wines and beers he could choose to accompany his dinner, they’re not for Paul, who never touches alcohol. He prefers water – always thoroughly filtered to remove chemicals – and coconut water. The only supplements he takes are vitamins B12 and D.
Travelling around the country for his work, he gets to know all the vegan eating hotspots and says Norwich is streets ahead of the rest of the country. “Norwich is leading the way,” he says. “There are some really good vegan restaurants and we have a vegan shop. It’s great.”
Many of his staff and clients at the Phoenix Gym, in Oak Street, are vegan and he is heartened to see more people choosing to follow this way of life. But it’s not as simple as removing animal products.
“The main killer of vegans is still heart disease,” he says. “A lot of vegan processed food is still high in fats – you need lots of fresh foods, not lots of oils and sugar.”
As an ambassador for healthy veganism, he is about as far from the common stereotype as you can get. And he has worked with many others who don’t fit this narrow view, including the 2014 Mr Universe, Barny du Plessis (who is also from Norwich), and former Norwich City and Scotland footballer Russell Martin.
He was even cast in last year’s film The Game Changers alongside Arnold Scwarzenegger – “I think I ended up on the cutting room floor!” – and he has fans all around the world.
He now hopes to expand his YouTube channel and become a social media influencer as he is genuinely amazed at how popular he has become. “I posted a video of me doing my shopping in Aldi and it got 200,000 people watching it,” he says. “That’s unreal.”
In fact, his whole transformation has amazed him and he says many from his past would not recognise him. “I had a lot of anger. Then I thought: if I’m unwilling to pay to kill a chicken that I have never met, why would I want to hurt my fellow man?”
His videos can attract online abuse but he has a whole new way of dealing with it. “While looking into becoming vegan I saw footage of the terror that farm animals have to go through, and I could not see them exploited and hurt any more,” he says.
He now applies this compassion to online trolls, saying: “I realise they’re suffering and I can add to it or I can forgive them.
“I was insecure and trying to be a big man. I was horrible! Now I’m different – less ego and more altruistic. I have no regrets. I only wish I’d done it sooner.”