She gained 10kg from training for the recent Rio Olympics, and Saiyidah Aisyah is totally cool with it now. By Estelle Low
Saiyidah Aisyah before the Rio Olympics. Photo: Mohd Taufik A Kader / Berita Harian
Like any other woman, national rower Saiyidah Aisyah felt depressed when people started commenting on her size.
She had put on 10kg from training for the Rio Olympics in 2016, and upon returning, her mum said: “Why do you look so fat?”.
“Everywhere I went, people commented on my weight gain. Though I became physically stronger, I couldn’t fit into my size S pants and that made me sad. I had body image issues for a while,” she confesses.
In competitive rowing, body weight matters. “The heavier I am, the more power I have. At my peak, I was 70kg.”
Saiyidah says it took her a long time to decide whether to be in the lightweight or open-weight rowing category. For the lightweight category, the maximum weight of the rower is 59kg.
“That would mean I had to lose 10kg to qualify. To do so, I would have to greatly restrict my diet and lose a lot of muscle mass. I tried doing it for a few months, and lost 3kg. But I felt weak and tired all the time,” she says.
She decided on the open-weight category eventually.
“Of course, it feels good to be able to fit into size S clothes, but I told myself I wanted to do rowing because it made me happy. And I was happier being heavier and stronger.”
Saiyidah soon figured that she had to get over her body issues, to continue pursuing her dream.
She started reading up more about strong women athletes who are super confident of their bodies, like Serena Williams. “It made me feel better. Who cares if you’ve got thunder thighs, if you’re really good at a sport?
If I’m an athlete and I have body image issues, what about the non-athletes? I can imagine it would be worse for them. That made me stop thinking about it,” she reasons.
FYI: At her 173cm stature, Saiyidah is considered small compared to other athletes in her category, who have an average height of 185cm.
Recently, Saiyidah was appointed a Herbalife brand ambassador. She’s currently based in Sydney, and returns to Singapore every three to four months.
Speaking of body love, what’s your favourite body part?
My thighs. That’s where all the power comes from. You use a lot of leg strength in rowing. That’s why rowers have big thighs. [laughs] I’m very proud of mine.
Saiyidah Aisyah is Singapore's first rower to compete at the Olympic Games. Photo: Kevin Lim / The Straits Times
What’s your fitness routine like?
I train twice a day, six days a week.
In the morning, I row outdoors for one-and-a-half to two hours.
In the afternoon, I do gym work, exercise on the rowing machine or do cross-training which involves swimming, cycling or running for 60 to 90 minutes.
On my rest day, I do active resting which involves brisk walking, bush hiking or swimming. I also recently picked up yoga. I’m so used to working out that I feel guilty when I don’t do anything!
What do you love most about rowing?
I like that rowing is one of the hardest sports to do because it involves the whole body. It trains both power and endurance, and makes me so strong and fit. It makes me proud to know that I can go to the gym and lift heavy weights, or join a race and be able to clock a decent timing.
What’s the heaviest weight you’ve lifted?
At my peak, I was lifting 120kg weights. Weightlifting makes me feel powerful.
Tried doing a marathon before?
I did a half-marathon, and finished in 1:53! I love running, and wouldn’t mind training for a full marathon in future!
Saiyidah at the launch of Herbalife's new sports drink CR7 Drive. Photo: Herbalife
What’s your diet like?
I start training as early as 6am. Sometimes, I take a nutritional shake from Herbalife an hour before, or have an energy bar. I take a caffeinated drink for more energy boost.
When I train, I bring along a 500ml bottle that’s filled with the Herbalife CR7 sports drink. My training is very intense, so I need to replenish those carbs and electrolytes immediately.
Within 30 minutes of post-training, I take the Formula 1 Sport nutrition shake. Sometimes, I’ll have overnight oats.
About three hours before my second training, I have lunch. I usually buy roasted chicken from the supermarket and make a salad or sandwich.
For dinner, I make pasta or simple dishes with brown rice, quinoa or couscous. Occasionally, it’s steak. I don’t like eating fish or seafood, so I get my omega-3 fatty acids from supplements.
What are your favourite foods in Singapore?
4 Fingers Crispy Chicken! I’m actually sponsored by 4 Fingers. [laughs] But honestly, the chicken’s really good! That’s not my ultimate weakness, though. I have a soft spot for salted egg yolk buns, the dim sum kind. I only get to eat them when I’m in Singapore. Also, I love prata – it’s cheap and good.
I also have a sweet tooth. My favourite desserts are cheesecake, ice cream and chocolates. I eat them once in a while, and in moderation. I don’t believe in depriving myself. Food makes me happy.
What’s your goal for rowing?
I want to work on my weaknesses, improve my timing, try to qualify for the 2018 Asian games, make it to Tokyo 2020. Eventually, I want to help other rowers achieve their dreams.
What’s your best advice for aspiring rowers?
Be patient. It takes many years of training and commitment to see results. Many new rowers get discouraged easily.
Follow Saiyidah Aisyah and her rowing journey here.