Change Maker - Kyle Gillen-Hughes

September 05, 2017 1 Comment

Change Maker - Kyle Gillen-Hughes

Tell us a bit about yourself – where you grew up, what you were like as a kid, when you got into athletics, other passions, etc.

 I grew up just north of Boston in the small town of Reading Massachusetts. Ice hockey was the first sport I fell in love with after learning how to skate at a young age. As I grew older my passion for hockey began to fade and football became my focus in high school. I played 3 years of varsity football at Lawrence Academy at Groton where my passion for athletics grew. I went from a wiry 150-pound freshman in highs school to a strong 210-pound defensive end by my senior year of high school on the varsity football team. I fell in love with the team atmosphere of football and became immersed in nutrition, powerlifting, and learning how to become a better all-around player during my football career. The start of my college running career began during my freshman year of college in quite the unconventional way. I made the decision to transfer to Regis College at the conclusion of my freshman year and decided walking onto the Men’s Cross Country and Track teams would be an excellent way for me to stay fit and get more involved in my college community. The transition from a 200 plus pound football lineman to a college cross country runner is typically one that is not made, but the idea of a new sport and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone excited me!

What is the thing about running that you like best?

The lack of politics. Growing up playing a variety of sports I constantly saw athletes who outworked their teammates and were never given opportunities to prove themselves compared to the more talented prospects. The sport of running isn’t like that. The mileage athletes invest in the sport of distance running tends to translate very differently compared to other sports. The politics come out of it when you either can run the qualifying time or you can’t. That is a greater reflection of your training unlike any other sport, which is what I love about running best.

What makes runners different from other athletes?

I would say that distance runners tend to be more mindful than the average athlete. In endurance sports which are about who can take the most suffering for the longest period of time one needs to have the ability to be mindful. I would define mindfulness as the ability to experience the present moment as fully as possible without any outside distractions or worries. If I can bring my focus back to my breath or the feeling of the wind on my skin as a runner and away from my mind telling me how uncomfortable this is making me feel, I’m in a better position to win my race.

Can you share a little bit about what your schedule is like as a college athlete?

On an average day I’ll wake up and head to the dining hall before my classes and have a couple of bowls of oatmeal with berries or make a big nutrient dense smoothie. I’ll then head to my classes for the day usually bringing with me a snack like some trail mix or a banana with almond butter. I'll then head to the dining hall again for lunch a few hours before practice where I'll typically have a meal high in complex carbohydrates like a quinoa salad with some spinach or a sweet potato stew. At practice I’ll head out on a group run with my teammates and finish with some strides, hip exercise, and a team lift. Following practice, I'll have dinner with the cross country or track team spending more time with my friends and teammates.

How do you deal with recovery and body care? What does your nutrition/supplement regiment look like?

My diet, sleep, and staying hydrated are the three greatest factors on my recovery as a college athlete. Eating a whole food plant based diet keeps my body in tip-top shape during my cross country and track seasons and has me feeling light and strong. I make a point to get most of my calories from whole plant foods, but do enjoy taking vegan energy and protein bars on the go with me especially to my cross country and track meets. As a runner foam rolling is another important part of my recovery regimen which helps break down the lactic acid build up. Since going vegan a whole food plant-based diet has dramatically improved the time it takes for my body to recover and I really only find myself tired and sore after an unusually hardcore or intense workout.

 

When did you transition to being conscious about eating meat? Was the change/passion an overnight shift or did it take some time to build?

During my freshman year of college, I was very passionate about bodybuilding and learned about vegan bodybuilders. I was immediately fascinated and wanted to learn more. I had always thought that I needed some form of animal protein in my diet to be optimally healthy and therefore never seriously considered a vegan lifestyle. Going vegan took some time to build. When I first learned about veganism through fitness, I thought of it as a unique diet, which had some other positive benefits to animals, the environment, and health. I learned that it is the position of the American Academy of Dietetics that well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for human beings at all stages of the life cycle. I also learned that animals are sentient beings capable of joy and suffering who have a will to live. Given my realization that animals value their lives more than I value the taste of animal products, and that I could be healthy as a vegan, while still eating an abundance of delicious food, going vegan became the clear choice.

How has life been post transition? What would you want to say to someone who is thinking about becoming a vegan?

Since going vegan I don’t see animal products as food anymore. I simply see them as things which belonged to another individual that we unjustly took from them. To someone considering going vegan, I would say that whatever motivates you most to go vegan, whether that is for your health, or for the benefits to the environment, that is genuinely awesome. However, the reality is a well planned diet with some meat and animal products in it can be healthy. Therefore, I believe the simplest reason for one to go vegan is something that most of us already agree with, which is that inflicting unnecessary harm to animals is wrong. If one seriously wants to be vegan, the animals will always be the strongest driving factor. Connecting with other vegans through social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube online is a great way to find inspiration and helpful tips on vegan living as well.

One of the big challenges for people when trying to eat healthy is the prohibitive cost. How do you balance this as a college student and have you developed anything that you’d like to share?

As a college athlete I pay for a meal plan at Regis College. My school dining hall is very simple and doesn’t offer any fancy vegan options, but it has everything I need to thrive as an athlete following a plant-based diet. I usually like to load my plate up with spinach at the salad bar and then will add some warm rice or quinoa over my bed of greens followed by a vegan protein source like chic peas, black beans, or a vegetable curry. Most college dining halls today label the dishes which are vegan, which is very helpful for vegan college students. It is a myth that eating vegan is inherently more expensive. Whole plant foods including rice, quinoa, beans, fruits, greens, and starchy vegetables are some of the most affordable foods available.

Have you seen What the Health? What were your thoughts on it?

I have seen it and think it is an okay documentary on plant-based diets. I think there is a lot of truth to be taken from this documentary however there certainly was some cherry picking done. I think the film will help make consumers more aware of what they choose to eat every day, but that most people will go vegan out of a motivation to respect animals.

How do you see the future of food? Do you think that one day the world will no longer consume meat?

I hope humanity reaches a point where we no longer view animals and their by-products as food and eating a plant-based diet and not using animals is the norm. I do believe there will be a day where most of the world goes vegan, but believe there will probably always be some injustice which remains. Similarly, we have made great progress in many issues of fundamental justice as a country and a planet, but unfortunately some violence and wrongdoings will most likely always remain. However, that does not mean we should ever stop working towards a better world.

What do you think about the mission of companies such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, have you given them a try?

I think that what Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are doing is really interesting. I believe that plant-based meat, dairy and egg alternatives are great for those looking to go vegan, but who still want to imitate the tastes and flavors of meat and animal products that they spent most of their life consuming. I think that vegan foods looking to imitate the taste and flavors of animal products are helpful but that people still need to disconnect the association between animal products and food for any large scale vegan change to happen. I have tried Beyond Meats chick’n strips and really enjoyed them. A delicious vegan meal hack is to order an all veggie sub from subway (most of their breads are vegan) and add the beyond meat chicken strips to it. DELISH.

Where do you think change has to come from to drive more of a positive change?

Within yourself. I can write and talk about why I believe going vegan is such a positive and powerful choice you can make right now, but ultimately the desire needs to come within yourself. I think human being’s capacity to change at any moment is amazing. Being vegan is about helping actualize a world where we don’t needlessly harm animals.

Have you found that community is a big part of driving change? If so, what communities are most important to you?

Community is so vital in making any positive change in one’s life. Whether that positive change is exercising more, becoming a better writer, or a more talented musician. When you make an effort to surround yourself with like minded and driven people you can’t lose. The environment one spends most of their time in is a massive influencer on who they are becoming as a person. If you’re constantly in a toxic environment where people are being sarcastic, skeptical, and brining each other down, one cannot possibly expect to make any meaningful positive change in their life. Actively surrounding oneself with respectful, like minded, and positive people is putting one in a position of success. On the same token it may be that spending more time with yourself so you can learn more, rest, and heal is the best way to achieve your goals in life. Connecting with other vegans locally and through social media has added a great deal of value to my life. I love to keep up with other inspiring people’s lives and do my best to put out content on my own Instagram and YouTube accounts which I hope to inspire others with.

We’re obviously a plant based supplement company – are there products that you’d like to see us make in the future? What is most missing from a vegan diet?

I’d love to see a natural Vitalfit energy bar in the future! I am especially looking forward to the new Vitalfit pumpkin seed protein as well. I would say vitamin B12 tends to be the nutrient lacking most in a vegan diet.

Where do you see yourself in the future? How do you want to bring your training and eating habits into your adult life?

I believe that vegan education is the portal to changing the world in more positive ways than imaginable and for that reason look to dedicate my life to educating others about veganism through vegan advocacy and just doing my best to live as a positive example.


1 Response

Ann Thomas
Ann Thomas

September 07, 2017

Kyle is a wonderful example of what a healthy growing person can do to eat right and maintain a vegan diet. He is committed to Veganism not only because it is healthy; but also because of his respect for living animals.

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