By Craig Pickering, DNAFit
The field of sporting genetics is becoming increasingly mainstream. Researchers and coaches have long known that individuals respond to a differing extent when on the same training program. Anyone who has been in a training squad will have seen team-mates who improved greatly with training and others who didn’t improve anywhere near as much. As an increasing amount of research is carried out into performance genetics, the reasons for these differences are becoming clearer. There are now a number of genes that can partially explain the response to different types of training.
Knowing and understanding your individual genotype is useful in ensuring that the training you do will elicit the best response. The key point here is that every individual has a training type that is best suited to them, and that providing the correct training stimulus in this way allows improvements across the board. A simple, non-invasive test done at home can give you the information required to get the most out of your training and improve your performance. It also helps to cut out the trial and error associated with trying different training methods and seeing what works.
What We Test For
DNAFit offer two testing categories; fitness and diet. With our fitness testing, we provide information on:
- Power/Endurance bias
- Genetic VO2 max potential
- Recovery Rate
- Injury Risk
Our diet service looks at genes related to:
- Carbohydrate and fat tolerance
- Micronutrient needs (specifically omega-3, antioxidants, and vitamins B and D)
- Detoxification ability
- Salt and caffeine sensitivity
- Lactose intolerance and coeliac risk
Depending on your needs, you can opt for separate fitness or diet tests, or purchase a combined test for a reduced price.
All the genes that we test for have at least three peer-reviewed scientific studies behind them. Studies are important, as it ensures the results are replicable within a population. All the studies are also done on humans, not mice or other animals, making them much more valid when interpreting the results. By using strict scientific protocols in the selection of genes that are tested, we ensure that our results are both valid and reliable.
Power & Endurance
After testing your DNA, we then put your results through our proprietary algorithm to tell you what your ideal mix of power and endurance training is. We test for a total of 15 genes in this section, all with plenty of evidence behind them. We know, for example, that ACTN3 genotype is linked to how well you respond to power and endurance training. ACTN3 codes for a protein found in type IIx muscle fibres. There are three possible genotypes; RR (meaning you have both copies that produce this protein), RX (one protein producing copy, one null copy), and XX (cannot produce this protein). We know that elite sprinters are more likely to have the RR genotype (Scott et al. 2010) and that endurance athletes are more likely to have the XX genotype (Yang et al. 2003). From this, we can hypothesise that RR genotypes will respond to power-based training much better than XX genotypes, and these hypotheses are backed up by a number of studies. One such study in Olympic weightlifters showed that individuals with the RR genotype improved the most in peak strength, whereas individuals with XX showed the greatest improvements in strength endurance (Turky et al. 2014). We also know from a 2014 study by Ahmetov et al. that ACTN3 genotype affects testosterone levels, which will also alter the response to a resistance-training programme. Taking all this information into account, we know that RR genotypes have much more type IIx muscle fibres, greater testosterone levels, and also greater mTOR activity following exercise. RR genotypes can, therefore, respond much better to heavy weight training, with fewer exercises per set. They also respond well to sprint training. If an RR genotype was targeting an endurance event, we would recommend that their training included multiple shorter intervals with short recovery.
We look at a whole host of other genes that affect power and endurance response, including:
- ACE (linked to response to both power and endurance exercise, depending on the version of the gene and individual has)
- VEGF (associated with growth of new blood vessels in response to exercise)
- ADRB2 (associated with the main type of fuel substrate utilised during exercise)
- PPARGC1A (linked to the production of new mitochondria)
When giving advice regarding recovery, we look at seven different genes. These genes are linked to the ability of the body to control inflammation, oxidative damage, and the immune response to exercise. Overall, we look at the specific versions of these genes you have and place you on a scale of slow to fast recovery. In our experience with professional sports teams, we have seen that some individuals can recover quickly from high-intensity competitions and training sessions, while others take longer to reach a fully recovered state. Knowing this information allows for a much better management of training load, improving performance across the training or competition period.
The final set of genes we look at on the physical side relate to injury risk. Within this set of genes, two specific genes we look at are COL1A1 and COL5A1. These genes code for different types of collagen and are linked to a predisposition to certain types of injury. For example, people with the TT genotype of COL5A1 are at an increased risk of tendinopathy, as well as having a generally decreased range of motion. Another gene we look at, GDF5, is also linked to recurrent tendinopathies, as well as bone health, which plays a role in fracture risk. Finally, we report on some genes linked to inflammation during exercise. We use all this information to let you know your genetic injury risk, and based on this provide information to allow you to modify your environment in order to mitigate this risk. For example, if you are at an increased risk of tendinopathy, we would recommend that you follow a programme of eccentric loading, in order to decrease the injury risk to these tendons.
The other side of DNAFit’s service is nutrigenetics – the effect our genes have on our nutrition. Just as individuals respond to a training programme with differing amounts, people can also respond to a specific diet differently.
The first set of genes we look at correspond to how well individuals can tolerate both carbohydrate and fat. As a specific example, the FTO gene has been linked to differing responses to dietary fat intake. On a high-fat diet, individuals with the AA genotype are significantly more likely to have an increased body fat, regardless of their levels of physical activity. (Sonestedt et al. 2011). Similarly, individuals with CC genotype of the APOA2 gene were likely to have a higher BMI if saturated fat intake was above 22grams per day (Corella et al. 2009). From these two genes, we can then make recommendations on the fat intake of an individual’s diet.
Regarding carbohydrate sensitivity, we can draw similar conclusions. Individuals with a T allele of the TCF7L2 genotype are at an increased risk of developing type II diabetes if carbohydrate intake is high. This is just one gene linked to carbohydrate tolerance that we report on to give you information on the recommended carbohydrate composition of your diet.
Finally, consuming a diet matched to your genotype has been shown to increase adherence to that diet. Arkadianos et al. (2007) showed that after 300 days, individuals on a genetically matched diet were likely to have reduced their BMI, and to a greater extent, than a control group. They were also over twice as likely to have maintained this weight loss over the study period than the control group. This has important implications for nutritionists who can increase the chances of success of a diet for their clients.
Within our reports, we also provide information to clients regarding their need for vitamins B and D, omega-3, and antioxidants. These results are linked to specific genes known to increase the need for these nutrients in certain people, including the MTHFR gene and Vitamin D Receptor gene. Individuals with an increased need for specific nutrients can purchase vitamin supplements formulated to meet their raised needs. Vitamin D, in particular, has been shown recently to play a role in bone health, as well as fast-twitch muscle strength. Ensuring you have the correct amounts can improve your sporting performance and reduce injury risk.
We also provide information regarding how sensitive an individual is to both salt and caffeine. Slow caffeine metabolizers have caffeine in their bloodstream for longer periods of time, meaning that they are more likely to have disturbed sleep. Studies are currently underway regarding caffeine dose, and speed of metabolism for sports people, with the hypothesis being that fast metabolizers can handle a higher caffeine dose than slow metabolizers. This allows individualised pre-competition caffeine strategies to be formularised. Genes showing lactose tolerance and coeliac risk are also reported on, showing how well an individual can tolerate certain foods.
Putting it all together
Our tests are useful for both individual sports people, and professional teams. Understanding your genotype is the first step towards creating personally tailored training and nutrition programmes. As a company, we have worked with Olympic champions and high-level professional sports teams, and have experience in providing interventions to these sports people based on their genotype. The test itself is very easy to do and non-invasive – it’s a simple cheek swab that you can do at home. Once we receive your sample, we will have your report ready within two weeks. If you already have a DNA report from 23andMe, we can convert your results into our report for a reduced price. For more information on our products, services, and pricing, please check out the website at DNAFit.
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Ahmetov et al. (2014). ACTN3 genotype is associated with testosterone levels of athletes. Biol Sport 31(2) 105-108
Arkadianos et al. (2007). Improved weight management using genetic information to personalise a calorie controlled diet. Nutrition Journal 6 (29)
Corella et al. (2009). APOA2, dietary fat and body mass index: Replication of a gene-diet interaction in three independent populations. Arch Intern Med 169(20) 1897 – 1906
Scott et al. (2010). ACTN3 and ACE genotypes in elite Jamaican and US sprinters. Med Sci Sport Exercise 42(1) 107-112
Sonestedt et al. (2011). Association between fat intake, physical activity and mortality depending on genetic variation in FTO. International Journal of Obesity 35 1041-1049
Turky et al. (2014). Effect of training programme in terms of ACTN3 gene alleles on strength achievement, endurance and snatch for young weightlifters. International Journal of Advanced Sport Science Research 2(3) 280-288
Yang et al. (2003). ACTN3 genotype is associated with human elite athletic performance. Am J Hum Genet 73(3) 627-631.