For most, the number zero implies emptiness, loss and maybe even heartache. But for Laila Ali, it’s the most glorious number in the world. With twenty-four wins and zero losses, the number signifies Ali’s perfect record untarnished by a single defeat, solidifying her mark as a boxing legend.
Equally important to Ali, though, is her legacy as a mom, a motivator and an advocate for women in sports. The daughter of boxing great Muhammad Ali is also paying it forward by getting kids interested in sports through initiatives like the USTA’s Youth Tennis. (That’s right, if she didn’t end up boxing, Ali says she would have given Serena and Venus a run for their money!)
En route to World Tennis Day, the four-time World Champion boxer stopped by Daily Burn 365 to talk confidence, HIIT workouts and her number one motivator…cake. Plus get her favorite smoothie recipe, and find out how many push-ups she can do in a single workout. Spoiler alert: It is impressive.
What inspired you to first get into boxing? Did you feel pressure — or reluctance to — get into boxing because of the legacy of your father?
It’s hard to describe the feeling when you see something and you automatically just want to do it. I’ve always been the fighting type. I’ve always been competitive. All that and the fact that it’s in my genes; it’s in my blood. When I saw women’s boxing for the first time I was just automatically excited by it and wanted to do it. So I just went in there and started training.
You mention genetics — is it fair for people to credit so much of your athletic success to that?
Definitely. The speed at which I was able to learn and the way things came to me naturally definitely had something to do with that. It’s in you. The confidence that it takes, the mindset that it takes, the way that I’m physically built, my instinctual movement in the ring. There are certain things that can’t be taught, that you just have naturally, so that made it a lot easier. Obviously, it wasn’t just the genetics alone, though. It takes a lot of hard work, repetition, discipline and focus, all of those things.
Would you ever get nervous before a fight?
No, that’s one thing thankfully that never happened to me. I usually get calm and abnormally relaxed. That said, anyone who’s going to be around you has to know there’s a certain way to act around a fighter. There are certain things you don’t talk about because you can get a little on edge.
Where would your mind go before you got in the ring?
To be honest, cake [laughs]. After a fight I’d always have a whole cake waiting for me in my dressing room. I’d have to make lots of sacrifices training for a fight, including eating food and sweets that I like in order to make weight. So I would look at my cake before I left the room and I’d be like ‘I’ll be back in 20 minutes or less. I’m about to go knock this girl out so I can come back and get that cake.’ And that was my inspiration. I would just envision myself winning and eating that cake…rum cake, red velvet cake, you name it.
And it worked: 24 wins, 21 knockouts. Confidence is something that’s clearly worked to your advantage.
I used to always say before I fought that I’ve already won the fight. I would visualize myself in the ring and visualize myself winning. I really did feel like there was absolutely no way I could lose. In life, I’m not an overly confident person, but with boxing, it was different. I truly believed ‘this is my ring, it’s the one thing I own’ and I knew that for sure with every cell in my body. That’s a hard thing for people to compete against, that type of belief in yourself. Not to mention my bloodline and the fact that I had [so many resources] available to me an elite athlete. I had the best trainers, I had the best of everything. I was pretty intimidating, I’m not gonna lie. [laughs]
You’re a big fan of high-intensity interval training. What’s a typical workout like for you?
I like to mix it up. I have a home gym, which I love. I don’t need to brush my teeth or do my hair if I don’t want to. I’ll put my music on, and zone out. First, I’ll hit my heavy bag for about 15 minutes just to warm up — intensely though. Then I’ll get on my StairMaster for 15 to 30 minutes, taking it from level six all the way up to level 15 — I’ll just go up and down to keep shocking my body. I don’t stay at 15 long — 20 seconds max because you’re running up the stairs at that point.
Then I’ll get on my treadmill and do some sprinting or I’ll do some free weights, depending on what I’m working on. One thing I always incorporate are push-ups, modified push-ups, sit-ups, squats. If I don’t do weights then I’ll make sure to go hard with push-ups. I might do a burn out — 250 push-ups total. But not all at once, I might do sets of 20 and keep counting up. It just keeps my arms nice. At this point in my life, I don’t want to start something that I’m not going to keep up. When I was fighting I had to. But now I try to find ways that I can work out that are fun for me and that I enjoy. Some days that’s running, so I’ll get out and do five miles — sometimes you just don’t want to have to think.
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What does your diet look like?
I eat clean. I try to eat an alkaline diet, 70 to 80 percent alkaline foods just to keep my body’s pH balance right. I try to always have something raw and something fermented on my plate. And I try to reduce the amount of protein that I eat. From time to time I’ll do a vegetarian meal. A typical lunch might be a salad, with lots of colors in there: some red cabbage, asparagus, avocado, maybe salmon. I make my own salad dressing, too, so I know exactly what’s in there. When I do eat carbs I try to stick to sweet potato, brown rice, soba noodles — complex carbs like that.
What’s your go-to post-workout snack?
Smoothies are great — that’s what I have for breakfast, actually. After I work out that’s the first time I really eat during the day. I like to train on an empty stomach, to help burn more fat, and I personally just prefer not to have anything in my stomach [before a workout].
Laila Ali’s Post-Workout Super Green Smoothie Recipe
2 cups frozen organic kale or spinach
2 scoops protein powder (Laila likes One World Whey)
1 tablespoon coconut oil or almond butter
1 tablespoon maca powder
1 tablespoon cacao
1 tablespoon super green mix (optional)
1 cup water
4-5 ice cubes
- Blend in a Vitamix until smooth and creamy.
What do you say to someone who has trouble getting out the door and to the gym on busy days?
In my mind, I’m always thinking: ‘You’ve got to pay the cost to be the boss.’ I tell my friends who are like, ‘You look so good!’…if you want to look good, you have to work. Anybody fit is putting in work. They’re making the sacrifice. If you want to sit around and slather butter on your bread and complain about your muffin top — I say there’s got to be balance. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to eat. On Fridays if I’m ordering pizza for my kids, I’m eating pizza, too! And that’s OK because I know I eat clean the majority of the time, and I work out. I was on the plane on my way here eating the sourdough bread. I’m not going to beat myself up about it because I don’t do it on a regular basis. You’ve got to have a cheat day here and there, or find a way you can enjoy food in your life. You don’t have to eat food that tastes like cardboard.
I try to encourage people to pay attention to why they should be eating healthy as opposed to just trying to be thin. When you understand how important it is to eat whole foods and the nutrition that you get from it, then you’ll be more likely to think about the good things you can add into your diet to crowd out the things you don’t need to be eating.
RELATED: 7 Days of Clean Eating, Made Simple
What’s the biggest lesson your father taught you?
When I think about my dad, the one thing I’m most proud of is that he stands up for what he believes in, no matter what it is, and no matter who agrees or disagrees with him. He didn’t need an army of people or an entourage behind him. He did what he knew was right and he had faith to know that no matter what he was going to be OK. That took a tremendous amount of courage back then, to always be able to look yourself in the mirror. And now he’s one of the most loved, respected men in the world… For me, the biggest lesson he taught me was to stand up for what you believe in and do what you know is right.
To watch Laila Ali’s complete appearance on Daily Burn 365 (and try the workout!), click here.