How genetically matched training can improve athletic performance

Genetically matched training offers athletes an effective way to improve their athletic performance. This is because each of us has a unique DNA profile, which causes us to respond differently to different types of training. The following article will discuss what factors contribute to athletic performance, why training is important and how DNA testing can help you reach your goals faster.

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What is athletic performance?

Athletic performance is difficult to define. It depends greatly on what your goals are and what you hope to achieve. Athletic performance for a weight lifter, for example, would be vastly different to that of a footballer. A weight lifter would measure athletic performance by the amount of weight he or she could lift, whereas a footballer could measure athletic performance using factors such as speed and reaction time.

For the purpose of this article, however, we’ll define athletic performance as elite performance in a sport, when compared to the general population.

Why is training important in sports?

Training is important in sports, because it requires a high level of skill and fitness. This is achieved through practice and conditioning. It’s essential to train regularly, focusing on both your strengths and weaknesses, in order to compete at an elite level.

Natural talent can only take you so far. Even the most talented sports players and athletes have to train hard to improve their athletic performance. 

Factors which impact athletic performance

There are three main factors which impact athletic performance:

  • Environment
  • Genetics
  • Non-modifiable risk factors

You’ll often hear people debating the influence of nature (genes) vs. nurture (environment). The truth is, they both play an equally important role when it comes to your athletic performance.

What factors make up your environment?

Your environment is essentially your lifestyle. Your lifestyle accounts for a large portion of your ability to reach elite athletic performance. You could have the best genes in the world, but if you spend your weekends eating pizza and watching movies in bed, you’re not going to become an elite athlete.

On the other hand, you could have average genes, but work really hard to optimise your diet and exercise routine. If this is the case, you’ll definitely see better results than a “genetically-advantaged” person living a very unhealthy lifestyle.

Environmental factors which affect athletic performance include:

  • Nutrition
  • Mindset
  • Training
  • Access to the equipment you need (if the nearest gym is 30 miles away, and you don’t have transport, this will affect your ability to train properly)
  • Access to a personal trainer or coach

What athletic performance factors are considered genetic?

Factors like your metabolism and frame size are genetic. The best way to get a quick, visual indication of your genetic makeup (if you haven’t done a DNA test), is to look at your siblings, parents and grandparents. How do they respond to training?

If your parents are both tall and muscular, and built for power training, you’re likely to be tall and muscular too. This could be a good indication that you’ll also experience good results from power training.

Your genes are also responsible for your predisposition to injuries. Some of us have a much  higher injury risk than others. If this is the case, you may need to take extra precautions when training - taking a day or two to recover from an intense gym session. Other people can train every day. Your injury risk will have an effect on the speed at which you can improve your athletic performance. Injuries can take anywhere from weeks to months to heal, so it helps to know if you’re prone to them.

Genetic factors that affect athletic performance include:

  • Biomechanics such as muscle fibre types (i.e. fast vs. slow twitch)
  • Injury risk
  • Recovery speed
  • Aerobic trainability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender

Note: Genetics should not be used as a talent identification tool. Your DNA test results only show one side of the picture. There are many other environmental factors that impact whether or not someone will be a world class athlete.

What are non-modifiable risk factors?

Non-modifiable risk factors are essentially things about your body that you can’t change. These include factors such as your age and health conditions (like cancer, cardiovascular disease or asthma). All of these risk factors could have an effect on your ability to reach peak athletic performance.

Genes which affect athletic performance

Currently, there are two main genes which affect athletic performance: ACE and ACTN3. There other genes associated with power and endurance. However, these two are well-studied and reflect how genetics can be applied to personalise the training modalities of individual athletes after they’ve taken a DNA test.

 There’s evidence that you can improve your athletic performance level if you train with your genes rather than against them. Thanks to advances in genetic science, we now know slight lifestyle changes can help us create a positive relationship between our environment and genetics, delivering optimum athletic performance.

What is ACE (Angiotensin-converting Enzyme)?

 ACE is an enzyme which helps regulate your blood pressure and electrolyte balance. When it’s active, ACE causes blood vessel constriction and increases blood pressure.

 People with the II/ID ACE genotypes have more slow-twitch muscle fibres which are better suited to endurance based training (low weight, high repetition). People with the DD genotype have more fast-twitch muscle fibres which are better suited to power training (high weight, low repetition).

What is ACTN3 (Alpha Actinin 3)?

ACTN 3 is associated with the major structural components of fast twitch fibres of skeletal muscles. It is only present in fast twitch muscle fibres. 

People with the CC genotype of ACTN 3 benefit from power-based training. People with the CT genotype benefit from power training, but less so than someone with the CC genotype. People with the TT genotype benefit from endurance-based training.

Whether you’re an athlete or a regular person just trying to get in shape, genetically matched training can deliver faster results. Athletes, however, are involved in high performance training. This means that gaining even a miniscule advantage through genetically matched training could be the difference between winning a gold or silver medal.

DNAFit’s Fitness Report and Professional Sports Report take a deeper look into a number of training factors and genetic responses. These serve as markers for athletes (and regular people) to use to maximise their time spent training.  

What’s inside the DNAFit Fitness Report?

The DNAFit Fitness Report (which you receive after doing our DNA test) gives you insights into your:

  • Power/endurance profile
  • VO2 max trainability
  • Recovery speed
  • Injury risk

You’re also able to access genetically-guided training plans, designed for your unique DNA profile. You can choose whether you’d like to burn fat or build muscle, as well as whether you’d like to work out at home or in the gym.

How do we know that our genes definitely play a role in our response to training?

The best way to test the efficacy of anything is to implement it in a real-world scenario. We did just that. Our research team worked with elite sportsmen (who perform at the highest level) to test our theory on genetically matched training. The results showed that the genetically matched group saw three times better results than those on a mismatched training plan.

Testing the DNAFit Peak Performance Algorithm

For this study, the team from the Exercise & Nutritional Genomics Research Centre looked at whether the DNAFit Peak Performance Algorithm™ could be used to give us a better idea of how to design the optimal resistance training programme for an individual, using their genetic profile.

Association studies identified dozens of genetic variants linked to training responses and sport-related traits. However, no intervention studies utilising the idea of personalised training based on an athlete’s genetic profile have been conducted.

We proposed an algorithm that allows achieving greater results in response to high- or low-intensity resistance training programmes. We’re able to predict athletes’ potential for the development of power and endurance qualities using the panel of 15 performance-associated gene polymorphisms.

Our results indicate that matching the individual’s genotype with the appropriate training modality leads to more effective resistance training. The Peak Performance Algorithm™ may be used to guide individualised resistance-training interventions and improve athletic performance.

Download our full clinical study which can be found in the scientific journal, Biology of Sport.

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