By Carolyn Harris
Kyle den Bak is a vegan athlete, personal trainer, and vegan nutritional consultant based in Ottawa. And what an inspiring athlete he is! Kyle has run over 5000 kilometres in a single year, has run the Boston Marathon on several occasions, has run marathons in less than 3 hours, and has achieved highly in ultra-endurance competitions.
Along with his personal athletic accomplishments, Kyle and his wife, Jane Kearnan den Bak, are the owners of PlantKind, a business through which Kyle offers personal training and nutrition coaching to his clients. Jane is creative director of PlantKind.
In this interview, Kyle explains how being vegan has helped him with his running, and he gives advice for athletes who are thinking about going vegan.
CH: How long have you been vegan? Why did you decide to make the switch?
Kyle den Bak: I have been vegan for 13.5 years. I decided to become vegan in my third year of university.
I read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation in one of my first-year courses. Until then, I had not given much thought to the animals we use for food, clothing, research and entertainment.
Singer introduced me to “speciesism”. This is the unjustified belief that humans have more value than other species simply because we are more intelligent.
It took me until third-year university to take the leap. One night with my roommates I watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie alludes frequently to the slaughter of food animals.
It’s an awful film. Leatherface treats his victims like cattle. To see human victims being treated the same way we treat other sentient beings had a strong effect on me. I went vegan the same day, and never looked back.
CH: How has your vegan diet helped you with your running?
Kyle: It took me two years after reading Singer to go vegan. At the time, I was into heavy weight training. I thought I would lose all my size and strength giving up meat and whey protein.
I finally did it because I thought it was the right thing. I was prepared to sacrifice. But the real beauty of doing the right thing is that it’s not a sacrifice at all. It’s a joy.
And you know what? My health and fitness has benefited from all the amazing plant foods. My training and recovery have improved, not declined!
I am now a long distance runner and ultra-athlete who runs up to 5000 kilometers a year. I am competitive in my age group. There is no way I could have done this on a meat-centered diet!
Everyone I know gets injured if they run as much as I do. Carbohydrate-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes give me endless energy. Nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory vegetables, berries and spices keep me injury free and speed up recovery.
CH: What is PlantKind, and why did you decide to start offering these services?
Kyle: PlantKind is built on our inclusive philosophy. My wife Jane and I know that the world is on the verge of change. The vegan diet is growing exponentially. We want to be a source of inspiration and knowledge to everyone from the full-time vegan to the Meatless Monday dabbler.
We see any embrace of a more plant-centered lifestyle as a fertile seed for watering. We want to meet you wherever you are, and help you every step of the way with no judgement. This is where we got the name Plant “Kind”. We strive for kindness in our advocacy.
Everything we offer is geared to making the lifestyle fun and sustainable in a supportive way.
As a fitness professional for over a decade, it’s only natural for me to offer personal training, nutrition and lifestyle services. I’m humbled by the success of my training and nutrition services, PlantFIT and PlantFUELLED, have been so far.
CH: What are your favourite foods to have before or after a workout?
Kyle: The best food for athletic performance is fruit. Particularly sweet fruits like bananas, dates and mangoes are great before a workout to provide carbohydrates to working muscles. They digest quickly, and won’t sit in your stomach.
After a workout, fruit provides anti-inflammatory effects, helps to fight free-radical damage to speed recovery. Sweet fruit tops up muscle glycogen, keeping your immune system strong and fueling you for tomorrow’s workout.
CH: What advice would you give to a fellow runner/athlete who is thinking about going vegan?
Learn what your energy needs are and discover creative ways to meet the demand! Plant foods are not as calorically dense as animal foods. The working body needs lots of energy to fuel and recover. A typical male runner of my size will need 3000-4000 calories a day or more. That’s a lot of plants!
Don’t try to get by on salads!
Always base your meals on healthy starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, whole grain pastas, legumes or oats. Fruit can also be an important caloric staple if eaten in large quantities. Athletes can’t afford to be modest with their portions on a vegan diet.
CH: What have you learned from your experiences with running a vegan business so far?
Kyle: First, be patient. PlantKind has been my side-hustle for over two years. It is just starting to pick up steam. You’ve got to just love what you do and keep nurturing it. As of April, PlantKind is going to be my full-time job! I’ll be doing what I love every single day.
Secondly, we are on the verge of a vegan revolution. When I went vegan 13.5 years ago, it was extremely rare. Everyone and their mother knows that a sustainable and compassionate future is plant-based.
Every single one of these people needs help and guidance. We need thought leaders, role models and experts in the local community. If you are thinking of running a vegan business, you can help give the revolution momentum. You can make a living while living your truth!
CH: What are your plans for the future?
Kyle: If you asked me a year ago, I’d tell you to make PlantKind a viable business. My belief in PlantKind is growing. I think it can be something even bigger.
I’d like to reach a wider audience. This would likely mean building a YouTube channel as well as offering more seminars and workshops to the wider public and publishing books. As one of the few experts in the field of vegan fitness, I want to have the biggest impact I can.
It’s those “aha” moments that people get when I talk to them that keeps me going. It’s like, I know I’ve planted a seed and it’s off to a good start. I just want to plant more of those seeds. Veganism is almost at its tipping point; we all just need to keep working and reaching more people.
All photos are courtesy of PlantKind. Best of luck as you turn PlantKind into your full-time business, Kyle!