I am extremely honored to have the pleasure to interview vegan strength trainer Jon Hinds of Monkey Bar Gym. You may remember his name from the article I posted about vegan football player Tony Gonzalez as well as the video of Tony making his vegan shake. I tracked down the mastermind behind it all Jon Hinds at his gym in Madison Wisconsin and he was kind enough to answer a few questions. I have many guy friends who are trying to build muscle and get more buff who think this would be impossible to do as a vegan. I myself used to play varsity sports and was an avid competitor in soccer, track and field, equestrian, and diving so I know what a stress exercise can be on the body as well as the common misconceptions about what is needed to maintain fitness. The most shocking of all is that it shouldn’t be stressful and it should feel good not painful. This can all be accomplished by adopting a vegan or raw vegan diet. I am passionate about spreading the word to all those vegan body builders, athletes, men, boys, women, girls, that you can be an amazing athlete, be vegan and moreover enhance your performance! Thank you Jon for all that you do and for helping me spread the word. You are an inspiration to us all! I mean check out those muscles!!
What made you decide to become a Vegan?
I became a vegan for a few reasons, one I do not like killing animals, two I want to eat better for the world and three I developed intense hand pain from what I thought was purely my decade of training the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At the time I was almost 40 years of age and my hand pain was so much that I could no longer grab the gi’s of my opponents without pain. Went to 4 different doctors and all said “your 40 years old Jon, you simply have arthritis”. I did not agree and then life brought a guy by the name of John Allen Mollenhauer into my life, he told me to read the “China Study” by Dr. T.Colin Campbell. John told me it was simply all the animal products and their acidic nature that pulls calcium out of the bones, which first shows up as hand / joint pain. I was desperate for relief so I said what do I do? Cut the meat now and in a month or two I promise you’ll have no more hand pain. He was right!! The pain was completely gone in 2 months. But then a funny thing occurred, I lost 12.5 pounds of Muscle in the next 8 months, I felt weaker, less athletic. This was not good. So then I talked with another good friend and Vegan for many years Mike Mahler, mike reminded me of the fact that I had forgotten which most people also do when going to a vegan / vegetarian lifestyle and that is that you still need to eat a certain amount of protein. I definitely had done just this, my whole life I had always made sure to get X amount of protein a day to maintain or gain muscle mass. But when switching to a vegan way of eating, I had forgotten this. So with this ‘Slap myself in the Head’ moment, I then made sure to get more nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, into my diet and supplemented my usual post workout Spinach shakes with Pea, Hemp, Rice and Soy proteins. The results were awesome, I gained back all my muscle and then some and can now say at 44 I am stronger than ever in my life. Since that occurred I became good friends with “China Study” author Dr. Colin Campbell who then connected NFL player Tony Gonzales with me. With my experience I was able to give Tony solid advice on how to do the same transition from meat eater to strong Vegan☺
Also do you focus on being a Raw Vegan or have any beliefs on raw vs. cooked? I have recently been moving towards more raw foods in my diet. As I believe raw is healthier for sure, but on the flip side do not want to stress out if I eat cooked foods either. Recently when talking with Dr. Campbell we talked just on this subject, how a person can eat a healthy diet but if they’re stressed out they will not benefit much from the good foods. While a person who eats a poor diet but is stress free can be okay. So I don’t want to stress it if you know what I mean. If I can eat raw then I do, but don’t trip over it☺
Tell me about Monkey Bar gym, your philosophy and the story behind it?
By training in LA and other places I saw the façade of fitness …being mostly about HOW DO YOU LOOK! From my background being all about functional training the two just did not mix. That is about when my friend Erik Paulson gave me a Nelson Mandela quote that provoked me to lead the way, to let my light shine, to create a training facility that was completely about function. That meant to me, getting away from all the isolative trappings of the traditional fitness scene; no mirrors to become absorbed in appearance, no machines to become absorbed in isolation. And going towards pure movement for performance, “Extreme Functional Training” is a good way to call it. No one was doing anything like this, so in August 2000 I started the Monkey Bar Gymnasium the first no mirrors, no machines, Extreme Functional Training facility!
What is Monkey Bar Gymnasium all about?
Helping people to move as nature intended; to run, to jump, to climb, to crawl, and to react! Back in the olden days of fitness the basics in movement were taught, but somewhere along the road, isolation came into play, muscles not movement were the focal point. I wanted to return people to that wonderful way of training as I feel it is a healthier way to train both mentally and physically. But the MBG is much more than just that, thankfully in 1995 I tore up my left knee playing basketball. I say thankfully because without doing so I would never have met my future mentor Roger Eischens. You see when I tore up my knee; nothing I did healed my knee up or the pain that followed in my back. I could no longer run, jump, play ball. I mean I was a NBA Strength Coach, a Head Instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and I could not heal my own knee and now back pain. Then I met Roger and he showed me the way that would forever change my life…Eischens Yoga. In one month I was playing ball outside on the cement all day long with NO PAIN☺ What Roger taught me was how to re-align the body thru active alignment training, strengthening the weakened areas of the body, creating more balance, stability and strength, relieving pain and healing the body and mind. It was the missing link of TRUE FUNCTIONAL TRAINING!!
With Roger’s smile of ‘good idea’ I integrated his Eischens Yoga with my bodyweight + resistance tubing training back in 1999 and the results were dramatic to say the least. I began to get a following and then it became obvious with Eriks letter to me…create a place that is like no other, that is 110% about truly gaining health and extreme functional training. And that is how the MBG was created and is what the MBG is all about☺
What do you say to people when they ask you where you get your protein and how you are able to be so physically fit as a vegan strength trainer? I tell them I get my protein from beans, vegetables, nuts, seeds like all vegan animals on the planet do as well as in plant proteins for my after workout smoothies as well. I am able to be so strong and healthy because I eat strong plant foods that give me strength and vitality. When I eat I do make sure to get a specific amount of plant protein a day…about .7 to 1 gram per kilogram is what I normally do and suggest for all my students and members and athletes I train.
What protein powders do you recommend and which ones are the best? I take and recommend pea, hemp, brazil nut and rice proteins mostly and have had great success with them. The Pea protein is getting a lot of positive press lately and is really an excellent choice plant protein for after workouts. Ones I like are Vega designed by my good friend Brendan Brazier, it really has lots of great plant sources in it. I also like source of life energy shakes too.
How much protein should an athlete get a day?
I recommend about .7 per kilogram to 1 gram per kilogram is good for maintaining to gaining muscle respectively.
If they start to load up on extra protein way over the amount recommended in an attempt to build muscle can this be bad for them down the road? Is it necessary? I believe the extra is just waste and yes can be bad for you. All my MBG trainers, members and athletes follow a vegan based diet and take in about 1g per kilo of bodyweight, yet they gain muscle just as fast as the animal based athlete diets, they cut fat just as fast and have far more energy and overall health.
The proof is in the pudding.
What did you used to eat and why did you cut it out of your diet? What was the catalyst for change? I use to eat the typical athlete diet, morning of oats, banana, whey protein, whey protein bar for snack, chicken, veggies and rice for lunch, whey protein smoothie and then chicken or steak with salad for dinner. I made the transition from a few reasons I mentioned above, but also because my client Woody Harrelson got me thinking about eating for my own true health and the planets health as well. He got me off milk back in the early 90s and then it’s slowly been a progression to a vegan diet ever since. Pressed for change from the hand pain I mentioned above.
What do you think about the book THE CHINA STUDY? Amazing book, everybody needs to read Dr. Campbell’s book as he tells the truth on nutrition that big business has tried to keep under wraps for far too long. The BIG IDEA is that foods are the reason for all our sickness and disease in the world and that we can change and make the world and ourselves healthier!
Name a few of the most influential books and resources that you hope other people will read or discover?
This could be long! I love to read☺
• The China Study
• The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (which actually has some great nutrition info in it as well).
• The Pleasure Trap (this book is great! And breaks down a lot more than just nutrition. I think I ear marked almost every page!)
• The Warrior Within (Bruce Lee book, his insights to life and martial arts are amazing!).
• Light on Life, by B,K.S. Iyengar, this is an incredible book that I re-read all the time.
• Laws of the Jungle, by Yossi Ghinsberg. Love this book, he really breaks down how we live and how nature lives.
• The Celestine Prophecy – great enlightening story on how we can live.
• How to Win Friends & Influence People – GREAT BOOK all should read!
• The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari – again great simple ways to live healthier mentally, physically, spiritually.
• Toward the Unknown – a martial arts book that makes one really look at why and how we teach. Very enlightening book!
I have many guy friends who are trying to gain muscle and who lose weight very easily. They desperately want to be healthy but are more paranoid about losing muscle than being healthy. How would you explain to them that you can have both? I understand the paranoia of losing muscle and getting weaker. I had it, Tony Gonzalez had it, lots of people have that fear when switching to a vegan or plant based diet. And because of this fear, less people are likely to make that switch. This is part of the reason I let people know that I am a vegan and a very strong and healthy one too☺ This gives others confidence to make that switch to a healthier vegan or plant-based diet. You can have greater strength AND health by doing two simple things. One, eating strong plant foods and Two, training with progressively harder exercises and/or greater resistances. It’s really that simple☺
What should a newly vegan athlete pay most attention to in order to maintain and build muscle? Follow these simple guidelines: Eat Strong Foods from the Earth, the less man touches it the better! Eat raw nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, lots of Greens, Legumes, yams, pure clean water. Make sure your getting your 1 gram of plant protein per kilo of weight, them get a good variety of the above strong foods. Don’t need to over eat all day long either like so many athletes do. A great book on teaching how to eat less and more☺ is The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler
How does a vegan athlete keep from losing weight? What should they incorporate into their diet? Can you give some specific examples?
How many meals and of what should they be eating daily to maintain or gain weight?
Eat enough calories to match your energy output. If your not eating enough, you’ll lose weight and feel weak, if your eating too much you’ll feel slow and lethargic. So I keep it simple:
• Eat strong plant foods when hungry: nuts, seeds, veg.s, fruit, legumes, roots, pure water.
• Eat ONLY until satisfied
• Get a good amount of your plant protein after your workouts in the form of a green smoothie.
Some foods I think vegans and everyone else can benefit from for solid protein sources are legumes, nuts and seeds. These are excellent strong foods and without question make up a huge part of my diet. I think a problem I see is that most vegans, vegetarians and new people to plant based diets get into meat substitutes like tofu, seitan, tempeh, etc and miss out on these great sources.
If you were to create a great shake for an athlete what would be in it and when should they drink it? My favorite athlete shake for sure is a spinach smoothie! Mix a cup or so of frozen chopped spinach, half frozen banana, some rice or cashew milk and pea protein and a tablespoon of flax oil. Drink it right after a hard workout and your gonna feel great☺
What would a sample menu for one day be for you?
1. Morning tea – usually mate’ tea
2. Fresh Greens Juiced – w/20g plant protein
3. Snack – Apple and some brazil nuts
4. Maybe a ice coffee before my 1pm workout
5. After workout: Spinach smoothie – 40g pea protein
6. Snack – berries or fresh fruit or greens juiced
7. Dinner – Big salad, veggies, beans, nuts, maybe some avocados and sprouted mung beans on top☺
8. Late snack – raw cashew butter and a apple
What tips do you have for the average person, or female who is just doing a healthy amount of exercise and not necessarily trying to gain weight? Eat less, eat simple foods from the earth, drink juiced fruits and greens and drink more pure water. Americans eat way too much food during the day as well as each meal so that is a huge start. Getting back to the basics in foods and water and getting away from anything processed and has added sugar.
If someone wasn’t willing to become a complete Vegan but wanted to make a few changes to their diet what would you suggest? Go to lean Organic meats if you can and cut them down to less than 2 times a week. This is what I suggested to Tony Gonzalez and it worked well☺ Also try to switch from milk to non dairy products like rice, almond, soy or hemp milks. The meat and milk are the worst and if you can start to get them to wean off them that is great. I was lucky and had a great client (Woody Harrelson) who got me off milk back in the early 90s. He really schooled me on the negative effects of dairy and I felt the difference right away. Since that time I try to get people to feel the same difference and that is really strong for making change. As soon as they get off the milk they will feel cleaner and lighter for sure!
I do not work out much but I am starting to. I love pea protein and often make shakes with one scoop of powder which has 25 grams of pea protein? My parents also love it who are not active but love their smoothies. Is this okay? Does it have benefits? YES! Pea protein is great and is for sure the way to go. My good friend Mike Mahler got me on to Pea protein a while ago and it worked great immediately and still does. Pea protein is probably the healthiest protein source a person can put into their smoothies! It does not give the negative side effects of animal products and yet gives all the positives…it’s a great choice!
Is there a safe amount for active children? What would you suggest to younger athletes who are training and growing? Get off the milk as soon as possible, I still see it as dominant and have seen too many cases now where kids bones do not heal quickly and they consume a ton of milk. I am not a fan at all of milk and think milk does a body good ONLY if your nursing!! Secondly get them eating their veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes. Get them eating strong homemade meals from the earth!
What is your favorite quote? Wow, so many to choose from☺ I’ll give you a few of my favorites, as I cannot choose one.
“True refinement seeks simplicity” – Bruce Lee
“it is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold & silver”
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley
What is your dream goal? To change the fitness industry to one that is truly healthy physically, mentally and spiritually. Physically change it from one of isolation and ego based to one of collective power, training movements, not isolated muscles & machines. Mentally; helping one another to become stronger thru positive feedback, challenge and encouragement. Eat foods that are healthier for us individually as well as the planet…a plant-based diet!! Spiritually by connecting to ourselves thru whole body exercise, thru helping one another and thru helping our planet we can change the fitness world to one that IS truly healthy in all realms!!
Who is the person you have not worked with but would most like to work with one day? It is not who but what, the name or fame does not impress me, what impresses me is the heart people have and you can find that in anyone. It just so happens that a lot of famous people have that heart that is so amazing to see. I love working with people who are really passionate, but also really love pulling that heart and desire out from people who thought life had passed them by. My MBG is full of amazing stories just like that, of people who were at their ropes end, they had heart, but needed guidance and a strong push. Seeing that happen over and over at my MBG is priceless. So it is not anyone in particular, but really everyone in particular☺ As everybody has that heart, that desire to really be great! They just lack that guidance, that firm push to get them going sometimes, then the rest is just amazing!!
Will there ever be a monkey bar gym in LA? Please??
Don’t know☺ We are planning on expanding this year and will for sure have some places on the west coast as well, so keep your fingers crossed☺
Stay healthy and happy!
Owner & Founder of the Monkey Bar Gymnasium