Balancing the Grind With Vanette Nguyen, Amateur Boxer

The purpose of Balance The Grind is all about learning about how people from all walks of life manage to achieve balance while pursuing their goals, passions and dreams.

For our interview series so far, we’ve had Ray Anand, a personal trainer and founder of Maverick Health & Fitness, and Theresa Bui, a working mum and dedicated Crossfitter.

Next up, we have Vanette Nguyen, an amateur boxer with a hungry work ethic and Olympic dreams. We talk to Vanette about how she got into boxing, preparing for a fight, weight cutting, the importance of working hard, her inspirations and plenty more!

1) How long have you been boxing for and what got you into it?

I did boxercise for 4 years, then switched over to boxing training which I’ve been doing for 1.5 years now. I loved boxercise, the cardio, the endurance, hitting the pads and the release.

Back then I thought that I was boxing, it wasn’t until I started kickboxing that the instructor thought I should change my training and try to train for a fight.

She introduced me to mixed martial arts (MMA) and I spent the first 3 months doing MMA training until my trainer could not train me anymore. I then decided to focus on the one discipline and choose boxing.

2) What is a typical day for you in the weeks approaching a fight?

About 3 weeks before a fight, I ran every morning, strength and conditioning during the day, one hour 1-on-1 session with my coach and then a 1.5 hour training session with the fight club or 6 rounds of sparring.

That would pretty much be 4 out of the 7 days, the other days would be running, shadow boxing and strength and conditioning twice a day. The week before the fight, we only do shadowboxing and light running and stopped doing anything on the Wednesday night (fight is on the Friday).

3) What sort of strength and conditioning program do you follow?

For strength, I do body weight exercises: chin ups, push ups, sit ups, squats and lunges. I very rarely use weights for strength work. If I do, it would be 1.5kg hand weights to shadow box.

For conditioning there is a lot of skipping, the occasional ladders but 5-7k runs and sprints is what keeps me fit in the ring to do all the rounds.

4) In your opinion, how important do you think is having a strong work ethic in boxing?

I think it is essential! You can have natural talent but if you do not work as hard as the guy who loves it more eventually he will be fitter, stronger, better and faster. You need to want it so bad and you need to work at it so hard.

You need to wake up thinking of it, and go to bed think about it. There are so many aspects to boxing: fitness, strength, technique and passion. If you don’t have a strong work ethic you will never be able to perfect all those aspects. And even when you have perfected it, there is always room to improve to make it better.

5) What has been your experience with weight cutting leading up to a fight?

I started boxing at a healthy and fit 61kg. At 167cm I had to cut down to 57kg for my first fight. I had been 61kg for 5 years without my weight going either up or down.

I find that cutting weight can be really demotivating at times especially if you are new to the sport. You already have so much to learn and practise so to also be worried about your weight can really stress you out. However it wasn’t a crazy amount I had to cut down so I knew if I give myself enough time and make changes to my diet I could do it.

Running and cardio really helped. 10 days before my fight I still had 2kgs to cut so I just ran every day, I would run 7ks in the morning, 5ks during lunch and train at night. I went down to my fight weight about 2 days before the fight.

I never felt hungry or tired because I was fuelling myself properly with the right food (not always tasty but good for you). It’s just part of the sport, I think you need to do it to make you really hungry for it. I am currently sitting at comfortably at 55kgs so my next fight I will be fighting at 52kg – 53kg.

6) Speaking of food, how do you make sure you’re always eating right? Do you have a favourite go-to meal for when you’re short on time?

Lots of planning and preparation is involved. You need to constantly know what you need to eat and why you need to eat it.

If I am doing a full day of training (morning, lunch, afternoon and dinner) then I know I have to prep a lot of food that day so that I don’t run on empty or grab bad food and snacks to cover the hunger.

If I’m running in the morning then I know I need to eat carbs like oats for after the run, then if I do weight training at lunch then I know to pack eggs or tuna, something with substantial protein.

It’s the same with every training session I plan for myself, I need to plan and organise the appropriate food to go with it. You cannot simply train and then just eat whatever you want because it won’t fuel you properly and can hinder your next session.

I am not a big meat eater so getting enough protein is a struggle, my favourite go-to meal that I think is perfect for any training session type is my Chickpea salad.

It’s like a hybrid of a Moroccan chickpea salad mixed with tabouli, I have it with a boiled egg, one piece of Lebanese bread and 2 tablespoons of good quality humus. It’s delicious, filling but light, high in meat-free protein, carbs, fibre and lots of vitamins and minerals from the parsley and vege.

I use a lot of spices and herbs to add flavour to my food, low calories but huge flavour and health benefit. It’s cheap, fast and easy to make and stores well.

7) With so many things to do everyday – boxing, training, work, meal prepping – how do you try to balance everything out?

A lot of planning and discipline. I need to organise myself so that I can get all the training I need in every day. I try to train 2-3 times as day, work and spend time with family and friends and for myself.

Part of it is organising my work out so that I don’t gas out in my morning session otherwise I’ll miss out on my day one or evening one. It’s also planning what I’m going to do so that I’m not too sore, for example doing leg weights will then result in not being able to complete my run or sprints.

Discipline is as simple as waking up early and running, training at lunch, training at night. Just keeping motivated to keep going.

Another form of discipline I need to instill is sticking to the game plan. Stick to what my goal was. There are days when I know I only have 45 minutes in the evening to train so that I can get home and get up early.

But those are the days when I want to go longer and push it to 1 hour or another half an hour. That extra unplanned time can make the next day’s training out of sync, make me sleep in and late for work or miss out on spending time with my partner.

8) How do you make sure you’re as organised as possible – especially when it comes to stuff like nutrition?

I try to plan the next weeks work out as much as I can on the Sunday afternoon and then go grocery shopping according to what I have planned. I would spend that night pre-cooking and prepping as much as I can so that it’s all ready to go.

I find that not being organised gives you room to make excuses such as “I need to cook, there’s no food at home, need to go home and get food”. So if all your food is there then that is one excuse eliminated, all you need to do is train and go home to eat and sleep.

9) Are there any boxers, MMA fighters, athletes that inspire you to keep going hard?

I think the one boxer that really inspires me is Mike Tyson. I am currently reading his autobiography. When he started with Cus D’amato as a teenager, he literally lived and breathed boxing.

Tyson trained his arse off, boxing became his world. He worked so hard and wanted it so bad, I love that he was so passionate about the sport that it became his world.

10) What are your short term and long term goals with boxing?

Short term: I would love to have at least another 2 fights by the end of this year. I would like to go for a title fight next year.

Ultimately, it is a lot of work and dedication to not want more out of it. For me the peak of what I would like to achieve would to be able to try out for the Olympic team for 2020. I know I have come into the game late, but I am the fittest and strongest I have ever been and I am hungry for it.

I just need to really get that good balance between, the love for boxing, work and personal life, it is very important to find some sort of balance for it to work or one would just have to give to fit room for the other.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.