The world of sports is full of inspiring stories of athletes who, beyond the talent they were born with, exceed their personal limits to achieve exceptional performance. Thus, behind every sporting success there is a unique combination of genetic and environmental factors that influence athletic performance. Currently, the improvement of genotyping and sequencing techniques has allowed numerous studies on genetics and sports performance to be carried out that are trying to find out if this “gift” or “talent” is hidden in the genome and what part of genetics influences the performance. The current scientific consensus states that 70% of the chances of being an elite athlete reside in heritability. In this way, scouting or talent hunting processes that increasingly occur at younger ages will be able to use multiple tools to determine future champions of individual or team sports.
In this article, we will explore how preventive medicine genetic testing can help you better understand your genetic characteristics and how they can influence your athletic performance.
What are genetic variants?
Genetic variants are differences in DNA sequence that can affect the way our body functions. These variants may be related to a wide variety of physical and health characteristics, including sports performance. Some genetic variants can influence your body’s ability to metabolize nutrients, as we saw in previous posts, but also the ability to respond to physical exercise, prevent injuries and much more.
Genetic variants and sports characteristics
Fast twitch fibers vs slow twitch fibers:
Your genetics can influence, in part, your ability to excel in sports that require different physical conditions, such as, for example, sports that mainly require power or, on the other hand, sports that mainly require endurance. One of the most important factors that genetics can assess associated with this fitness differentiation is the proportion of fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscle fibers in your body. The greater the proportion of fast-twitch fibers, the greater the performance may be in tests associated with power or explosiveness such as sprinting or any team sport that requires sprinting, such as soccer. On the contrary, a higher proportion of slow-twitch fibers could favor endurance sports such as long-distance races such as the marathon. Thus, one of the most important genes in the heritability of sports performance is the ACTN3 gene, which gives rise to a key protein in the formation of fast-twitch muscle fibers. In 2010, a study published by the University of Glasgow confirmed that 75% of the Jamaican population has a genetic variant in the ACTN3 gene that predisposes its carriers to present fast-twitch fibers in large quantities. This genetic advantage, along with other causes of environmental origin, could be promoting the fact that the athletics events that most require power (100m dash, 200m, 400m, etc.) are dominated by this small Caribbean country of almost 3 million inhabitants.
Oxygenation and cardiovascular capacity:
Your genetics can also influence lung capacity, red blood cell production, and response to aerobic exercise. Those with a genetic advantage in these aspects can excel in endurance sports such as long-distance swimming, cycling, or the marathon and half marathon. The genetic variants in the HFE and VEGFA genes become important at this point since they code for proteins responsible for regulating the circulation of iron, a key element for the transport of oxygen in the body, and for vascularizing the muscle, respectively.
Injuries, recovery and adaptation to training:
Beyond talent, inherited physical conditions and other environmental factors such as training and following healthy lifestyle guidelines, there is a key point that can significantly modify an athlete’s sporting performance: injuries. Injuries in sports, especially to muscles and tendons, are one of the main difficulties that athletes have to overcome. Aside from physical conditions and lifestyle habits, an athlete’s performance can be determined by his or her ability to avoid injury, as well as his or her ability to recover in the event of an injury. In this way, the genetic predisposition to suffer injuries induced by high-intensity sports practice is associated with genes related to inflammation processes, angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) or the functional integrity of the muscle. Of special importance in this section are the SOD2 gene, which codes for an enzyme that has an antioxidant role against reactive oxygen species generated during inflammation in intense sports, as well as the VEGFA gene, seen in the previous section and associated with muscle vascularization.
How can genetic tests help you?
Preventive medicine genetic tests analyze your DNA to identify these genetic variants related to sports performance, as well as the response to diet. By better understanding your genes, you can personalize your training and nutrition approach to make the most of your athletic potential.
For example, if you discover that you have a genetic predisposition to a higher proportion of fast-twitch fibers, you could focus on sports that require explosiveness. If you are prone to greater recovery after exercise, you could plan more intensive workouts.
In summary, performing the AboutMe – Nutrigenetics preventive medicine genetic test will provide you with valuable information about your specific genetic characteristics and will help you make more informed decisions about your training, nutrition and lifestyle.
Remember that, although your genes can influence your potential, effort and dedication are still essential to achieve your sporting goals. Consulting with a health professional or personal trainer, as well as a nutritionist, after receiving your genetic test results can be an important step in maximizing your athletic potential. Make an appointment with our expert professionals in nutrition and sports.