We recently had a chance to interview Dustin Hinton, a dedicated father, vegan and three-time IRONMAN triathlete – make that five times, after he completes IRONMAN Louisville and IRONMAN Florida within 10 weeks of each other later this year. Hinton radiates positivity and he has a serious commitment to veganism and ultra-endurance athletics, but things weren't always so great.
Hinton's story starts in 2011 with personal tragedy – he lost a friend to cancer and went through a divorce. When he realized that he was eating a lot and very unhealthily to cope with the stress and heartbreak, Hinton set a huge, life-changing goal for himself: By year's end, he was going to complete the IRONMAN Louisville triathlon.
It was a challenging goal - he had never made a regular habit of running, couldn't swim well and didn't even own a bike.
"I couldn't run more than a couple miles without being completely demolished," Hinton admits.
But he was determined. He joined a local free running club, bought a bike, learned how to swim from YouTube videos, and made the choice to go vegan.
He spent the year training, focused on the magic number :140.6 – the number of miles an IRONMAN triathlete must complete in 17 hours during a race, which is comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
During his training, Hinton vowed to run every race he could – from 5ks to marathons, and everything in between.
"I was racing nonstop, year-round, almost every weekend," he says. "So by the time I got to IRONMAN Louisville, I was a pretty fit machine – but I was very tired," he says with a laugh.
But Hinton made it to and through the Louisville race with his entire family – including his son, Boston – watching him finish. The event was also where he debuted his new, fit self. When he started training, Hinton was 223 pounds, but by Louisville, he was down to 158.
Hinton credits his transformation to his training combined with a vegan diet. And since he's a man of big goals, he didn't stop with just one IRONMAN. In fact, he's working toward the granddaddy of them all: the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. As Hinton explains it, since he started training to be an elite athlete in his 30s rather than in high school or college like many other triathletes, the path there is a bit longer. Since he's not fast enough to win (his words, not ours), he'll have to complete nine more IRONMAN competitions for a total of 12 in order to gain a legacy entry into IRONMAN Kona, where only the best of the best make it.
"I may not be the fastest but I've got heart. I never give up. I could break my leg and I'd still finish," he proudly explains.
Being both vegan and an elite athlete
While people outside the world of elite endurance sports might not realize there are vegan athletes, for people like Hinton who are active on social media and very involved in the community, they see that veganism is becoming more common among this crowd. He cites two big names: Scott Jurek, who does endurance trail running, and Rich Roll, an ultra-endurance athlete – both of whom follow a plant-based diet.
Hinton says people unfairly call vegans "frou-frou" and weak, but that "just doesn't apply to veganism. Vegans are tough. Three IRONMANs later, I think I've proven that."
Though he says a vegan diet is safe and rewarding, it can be challenging for elite, endurance athletes who sometimes must consume a whopping 5,000 to 8,000 calories per day during training!
"When you're doing a vegan diet, that's a really tough thing to do while staying at a high level of performance," Hinton says. "When you're not vegan it's easy, you can just go eat a couple cheeseburgers and you're good. But a bag of carrots is like, 100 calories," he says with a laugh.
"You can only eat so much. So you have to get creative and you have to really sit down and become your own dietitian and nutritionist … and be a scientist of your body and try to figure out 'How do I get all this in there without getting sick and still get all the calories in me?' And it's tough."
What Hinton eats during training
During training, Hinton admits he spends a large portion of his day eating to get all of the calories he needs, though this was definitely a trial and error process.
He starts his day with a protein shake made with VeganSmart protein powder and other ingredients like oatmeal, fruit, coconut milk and peanut butter to get all the micro- and macro-nutrients his body needs.
Hinton consumes between four or five of these shakes daily, and his other staples are homemade peanut butter hummus (ask him for the recipe) and veggie and bean burritos.
"A lot of people think vegans are eating like birds all the time. You come eat with me, you'll be tired of eating. It's all comfort food," he says.
Considering adopting this healthy lifestyle yourself? Check out Hinton's tips for going vegan – and all that comes with it in part two of our interview.