We learn how Miss Universe Singapore runner-up Tiong Jia En took her stamina, endurance and boundless energy to the world of fitness, plus the secret to her porcelain-like complexion: raw silken tofu.
An energizer bunny – that was my first impression of Jia En. I was in zombie mode, waiting for my 7.15am rhythm cycling class to start when the studio’s doors swung open and a svelte figure in a sports bra, leggings and a headset whizzed past with a high ponytail bouncing along behind her. After clicking and clacking back and forth in her spin shoes, she popped by the waiting area again a split second later, animatedly looking for a missing first-time student who needed extra time to learn the basics.
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On the podium, Jia En is a natural, pedalling at super speed to snappy beats under the spotlight while still flashing a megawatt smile. On Instagram, she portrays a similar vivacious image to her 68.6K followers and has been a #fitspiration to many. Less than a week after her inauguration as an instructor at Absolute Cycle, the 23-year-old was crowned first runner-up at the finals of Miss Universe Singapore. “I feel like I’m living the dream right now,” she says. Next on her to-do list: becoming a barre instructor. Her ultimate goal though, is to walk the runway at Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. But her journey thus far hasn’t been always a smooth ride.
With a humble family background, Jia En had to be financially independent from a young age. This meant juggling up to four part-time jobs to pay for school fees while pursuing her degree in Communications and New Media at National University of Singapore. Besides tutoring in the day, she did waitressing jobs through the night till 5am. She was simultaneously building her own swimwear label, Sorakini, which launched in 2017.
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Despite having zero background in business, she was adamant in powering through the uncertain entrepreneurial journey in a bid to fill the gap of premium yet affordable bikinis for fellow beach-lovers. Yet, fatigue never got the better of her. What gave her the energy boost she needed daily were morning runs and regular home workouts. “I rode on the adrenaline and it made me feel good,” she says.
Shortly after graduation, Jia En endured long and late nights working at an advertising agency for eight months before taking a leap of faith and switching to a career as a fitness instructor. With mostly 7am classes in her work schedule, giving up a part of a social life was essential as she’s in bed by 10pm and up by 5am. “I’m working when my friends aren’t, and vice versa. No regrets though!” By the end of our nine-hour long shoot, Jia En still looked as fresh and spirited as she did in the morning – truly the energizer bunny that she is.
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SHAPE: How happy are you with coming in as first runner-up in Miss Universe Singapore?
Jia En: Although winning the title and representing Singapore on the international level would have been incredible, I went in with a very open mind. Let’s just say I still look at my sash once in a while and ask myself, “Did that really happen?”.
S: What do you hope to achieve with this new title and influence?
JE: It’s easy for people to be nasty behind a screen on social media. I want to build a community of supportive women who are kind to one another and are constantly building each other up.
S: Why did you decide to become a spin instructor?
JE: Rhythm cycling is a sport I really enjoy, so I thought, why not make it a career? The best feeling in this world is to work at a job that doesn’t feel like one. I wake up every morning really eager to start my day.
S: Have you always been a morning workout person?
JE: Yes. When I was working in a corporate job before, 7am was the best time for me, just in case I needed to work late. I like to start my day strong!
S: What’s your secret to getting your energy levels up in the morning?
JE: My belief is that how you do one thing, is how you do everything. I am human too, and I don’t wake up at 5am every morning feeling like I’m ready to rock the studio. But I am professional in what I do – if people are willing to wake up early to take my class, I will only give them my best.
S: Favourite artistes on your spin class playlist?
JE: Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Beyonce … all the queens! Lindsey Stirling’s cello beats are also perfect to start and end the class with.
Watch Jia En demo eight core-intensive moves in this workout video. She even shares a kickass playlist to fuel the routine.
S: What’s your personal fitness routine like?
JE: I do a mix of yoga, pilates, swim, barre and HIIT, scattered throughout the week. I’m a fitness fanatic and I work out for at least three hours a day. The constant adrenaline makes me really happy.
S: When did you start being this active?
JE: My secondary school (Cedar Girls’ School) has a powerful track and field team and I always admired how fast and strong the ladies were. It motivated me to join the cross country team in Victoria Junior College and I never looked back since.
S: What’s your favourite fitness motivational quote?
JE: Suck it up now so you don’t have to suck it in later!
S: Do you follow a specific diet?
JE: No, but I generally watch what I eat. I avoid fried food and soft drinks, but I do have an occasional milo kosong. Ultimately it is everything in moderation. For convenience, I usually have bananas for breakfast and I take a lot of plain silken tofu throughout the day.
S: Any beauty or skincare tips for girls who work out?
JE: Try not to put on foundation when you work out so your pores can breathe. Also, drink a lot of water because the last thing you want is dull, dehydrated skin.
S: Any fitness goals for 2019?
JE: Now that I am in the fitness industry, I’ll love to widen my skill set, get certified and start teaching barre and HIIT classes in 2019.
S: What does being in shape mean to you?
JE: It means being a source of motivation for others to learn to take care and love their own body. You only have one!