Dubai Fitness Challenge: supplement your exercise with eating the right foods

Midway through the initiative, it is time to look at what you should be eating to maximise on those workouts

Make the most of your Dubai 30x30 journey by eating well in addition to exercising hard. Courtesy Dubai Fitness Challenge

From yoga sessions en masse in parks to weekend workouts on the beach, group boxing sessions and family cycle rides, over the past 16 days or so, exercise enthusiasts of all ages and capabilities have been throwing themselves into the 2018 Dubai Fitness Challenge.

The initiative, which began on October 26, is spearheaded by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, and calls for people to complete 30 minutes of exercise every day for 30 days. The end goal is not just to make Dubai the most active city in the world, but to make exercise accessible and fun for all, while improving individual health and fitness on a large scale.

The relationship between food and exercise 

To really capitalise on the benefits of this particular challenge, and indeed your exercise regime in general (when Dubai 30x30 comes to an end on November 24, the idea is that those few minutes of activity a day have already become an integral part of your routine), the food we eat in the hours and minutes leading up to activity and indeed straight afterwards can play a hugely significant role.

Anna Holmes is one of the head coaches and co-founders of The Project DXB, which specialises in fitness training and nutrition coaching. For the duration of Dubai 30X30, The Project has been providing “in office” training for 400 or so Dubai Fitness Challenge employees, so those working hard on promoting fitness in the UAE also get the opportunity to fit in their 30 minutes of activity.

The relationship between food and exercise, Holmes says, is intrinsic. “What people often forget is that if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, eating well and moving daily is key, and finding the right balance between those two is essential.”

She advocates a sensible, long-term approach to both eating and exercise, highlighting that in the fast-paced world we all exist in today, our demand for instant gratification can be detrimental. Fad diets and extreme quick-fix workouts simply don’t yield safe, sustainable results. “Consistency (in terms of how often you exercise) and flexibility (in relation to diet) are so important. We advocate an 80:20 approach to eating; in short what this means is that your diet is filled with 80 percent real, wholefoods, leaving a 20 percent flexibility window for the foods you enjoy, that might not be so good for you. This allows people to maintain a balanced lifestyle, rather than feeling restricted, which often ends in overindulgence.”

Importance of pre and post-workout meals

This is a viewpoint shared by Catherine Williams, a personal trainer and health and wellness coach in Dubai. “People confuse eating healthily with eating, or dieting, for fat or weight loss, when what’s necessary for well-being is balance,” she explains. “It really helps if you identify a specific target, which you then base your diet and training around. Nutritional needs will be very different if you’re working up to running a marathon, which requires regular meals, slow-release carbohydrates and often an increase in calorific intake, as opposed to strength training, where protein is vital.”

Williams and Holmes say that however your training diet is tailored – and this includes both exercise newbies and seasoned Iron men and women – calorie and protein intake needs to be sufficient to support workout goals and improve performance, as well as help to preserve, grow and repair muscle tissue.  

Keeping to the 30x30 theme of the month, Holmes adds that pre-workout food (anything consumed in the half hour before strenuous activity) should be relatively light and feature a mix of carbs and protein to help fuel the body without leaving it feeling sluggish. “At this point, consider foods that are easily digestible and will be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly for immediate energy – this could be something as simple and easy as a protein shake and a banana, a smoothie or a couple of homemade energy balls.”

Attention to diet doesn’t end with your workout, though, and Holmes says that the 30 to 60 minutes after exercising is a key anabolic opportunity. “At that point the focus is on refuelling, replenishing and recovering as best you can, which means consuming the right food sources. Although it might be tempting, avoid sugary drinks and caffeine and opt for a mixed meal that includes protein, complex carbohydrates, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and fibre, such as the prawn stir fry ­recipe provided.”


Read more:

Dubai Fitness Challenge: Free workouts at five community fitness villages

Your definitive list of things to do in Dubai

Dubai Fitness Challenge returns: Here are 14 essential events to check out


5 quick pre- and post-workout bites

Prawn, chilli and garlic stir fry

Courtesy The Project DXB



1 garlic clove, crushed

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp minced ginger

2 tbsp sesame oil

500g tiger prawns, shelled and deveined

Stir fry

2 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 red onion, sliced

1 tbsp sliced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

1/2 red chilli, sliced

1 cup chopped broccoli

80g thinly sliced carrots

1 cup green beans

1 cup sugar snap peas

1 cup sliced green peppers

2 heads bok choi, chopped

1 cup bean sprouts

80g cashew nuts

2 tbsp soy sauce


Put the marinade ingredients in a large bowl or sandwich bag, add the prawns and mix well. Leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour.

Set a large frying pan or wok over a high heat. Add the prawns and fry for a minute or so on each side until almost cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside for later.

Wipe the pan clean, return to the heat and add the coconut oil. Once hot, add the red onion, garlic, ginger and chilli, and fry for two minutes. Add the broccoli, carrots, green beans, sugar snap peas and green peppers and continue to cook for two to three minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and cook for two or three minutes more. When the stir fry is almost ready, return the prawns to the pan and toss everything together. Cook for a minute, then serve.

Recipe by James Hitchens, The Project DXB personal chef


Banana, peanut butter and cranberry energy balls

Courtesy Scott Price

You can vary the ingredients according to taste: almond and ginger and coconut and cacao will also work really well.

Makes: 12

Prepare: 10 minutes

Cook: No Cook


2 tbsp peanuts (unsalted and unroasted)

2 tbsp dried cranberries

60g porridge oats

4 dates, pitted and chopped

1 tbsp peanut butter

1 ripe banana, peeled and chopped

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon


Finely chop the peanuts and the dried cranberries. Mix together, tip onto a large plate and set aside.

Put the oats in a blender with the dates, peanut butter, banana and cinnamon. Blend well, until all the ingredients are well combined.

Take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll into a ball. Repeat with the remaining mix. Roll each of the balls in the peanut and cranberry powder that you made earlier, coating all over.

Transfer the energy balls to a baking tray lined with baking paper and chill in the fridge before serving. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.


Sweet and smoky trail mix

Courtesy Scott Price

This makes for a great on-the-go snack, providing a dose of energy and healthy fats, as well as plenty of flavour.

Makes: 20 portions

Prepare: 10 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes


2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tbsp crushed black pepper

1 tbsp runny honey, maple syrup or agave syrup

100g almonds

100g cashew nuts

50g walnuts

100g pumpkin seeds

100g raisins


Line a baking tray with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Set a saucepan with olive or coconut oil over a low heat. Add the smoked paprika, black pepper and either honey, maple syrup or agave. Stir and heat for one to two minutes. Tip the almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts and pumpkin seeds into a bowl.

Pour over the smoked paprika oil, season with a little salt and mix well to combine. Transfer the mixture to the baking tray, spreading out in a single layer.

Cook for 15 minutes, stirring halfway. Remove from the oven, stir in the raisins and leave to cool completely. Store in airtight jars.


Courgette, feta and spring onion mini quiches

Courtesy Scott Price

These little bake-ahead bites have all the flavour of a quiche, without the calorific pastry case.

Makes: 6

Prepare: 10 minutes plus cooling

Cook: 25 minutes


1 tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 medium courgette, grated

3 spring onions, finely chopped

3 eggs

75g tinned sweetcorn, drained

60g feta cheese, crumbled

15g cheddar cheese, grated

1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a six-hole muffin tin with cases.

Set a frying pan with the olive oil over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for about two to three minutes, stirring often.

Add the grated courgette and spring onions and season with salt and black pepper. Cook for eight to 10 minutes, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sweetcorn and feta cheese, then fold in the cooled courgette mixture.

Divide the mix between the prepared muffin cases and top with the grated cheddar cheese and rosemary sprigs.

Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave to stand in the tin for approximately 15 minutes.


Homemade cashew butter protein balls

Courtesy The Project DXB

Makes: 20

Prepare: 10 minutes

Cook: No Cook


1/2 cup cashew nut butter

1/2 cup almond flour

1 cup vanilla protein powder

6 large dates, pitted

1 tbsp ground flax seed

2 tbsp chia seeds

2 tbsp coconut oil


Add all ingredients to a food processor and blitz until combined. You will need to scrape down the sides a couple of times.

Empty the mixture into a large bowl and stir to make sure everything is well combined.

Roll into little balls and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before eating. The balls will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.

Recipe by James Hitchens