I did DNA testing for sports performance a few months ago. Why?
Well, you know how people are amazing at one sport but not another? A record-breaking sprinter can suck at long-distance running for example. These differences are down to our genetic profiles. So being aware of your profile (via DNA testing) can give you an advantage in sports and how to train for them. For example, tailoring their training routine to genetic abilities is a must for Olympic athletes.
This is why I took the test too. My goal was to find out what sort of training my body is primed for based on my genetic profile. Would I benefit more from endurance training, powerlifting or sprinting? Which muscle fibers will better respond to training: the fast-twitch or the slow-twitch fibers? After years of training, I wanted hard evidence to not just help optimise my training, but also pick the obstacle course race distances in which I’d perform my best.
The DNA Test
I did an at-home test, where I swabbed my cheek for a saliva sample. I then sent this sample off in the post and it was processed by an independent lab (DNAFit).
The outcomes of this particular test by DNAFit are linked to specific genotypes:
- Power and endurance response
- VO2Max potential
- Post-Exercise recovery speed and nutritional needs based on results
- Sports injury resilience
As expected, the data I was sent back was easy to digest and interpret. I actually received more than I expected.
I spent half a day trying to pull the data together and paint my genetic profile to make the best of it. I needed some clear threads to draw the conclusions and further steps.
1. Power and Endurance Response
This one was the most interesting result. I expected the divide to be close to 50/50 because that’s how I perceived my body reacting to my training regime. Yet based on the data, my genetic makeup is inclined towards endurance (83.3%) far more than power.
What gets me excited here is the results regarding ACE, PPARA and ACTN3 genes. These three are presumed to be the primary genes for advanced endurance performance. They’re linked to higher muscle metabolism and in combination ensure a prolonged peak performance.
What’s even more interesting is that depending on your ancestral lineage, ACTN3 (Alpha-actinin-3) may be or may not be present in your gene pool. For example, only 20% of Australians have this gene. Yet it’s one that every athlete would crave. Based on studies on mice and rodents, those who had ACN3 gene were able to run 33% longer before ‘hitting the wall’ than those without the gene. Now, if that isn’t positive inspiration…
What I learnt from this is that I should consider prioritising endurance exercise (longer efforts of approx. 1km+) in my training programme and goals. Based on my genetic profile and tailored to the sport, this training could yield immense progress and results.
Now that we know what sort of athlete I am, let’s jump into the rest of the athlete’s toolkit that will help me optimise my training even more.
2. VO2Max Potential
VO2Max, otherwise known as ‘aerobic potential’, is an indicator of how well your body uses oxygen during exercise. In short, the higher your VO2Max, the better you will perform when put to the test.
All of us have a predetermined VO2Max rate, however to get to the true potential we have to expose ourselves to gradual resistance. Both cross-training and endurance is essential to boost it. For example it doesn’t matter if your genetic makeup makes you out to be an Olympic athlete – if you’ve never ran a mile in your life, your VO2Max will be low and you’ll gas out very soon after taking off.
Back to my results:
Well I be damned…
The genes PPARGC1A, CRP and ADRB2 (multi variations) are all linked to sustainable oxygen usage. If exposed to relevant stress, they spur on intermediate and better than average VO2MAX. What is even better is that a mixture of power and endurance training can increase this marker even more, even if my genetic profile is leaning more toward the endurance side.
Overall this was a terrific surprise and made me question the numbers. I never tested my Vo2Max before and I’ve now decided it’ll be the next test I take. But for now, let’s get back to the other findings.
3. Post-Exercise Recovery Speed And Nutritional Needs Based On Results
You probably notice how some people recover faster than the others. Why? Genetics. Without oversimplifying it, though, certain genes have been proven to be responsible for how fast one’s body can recover from hard training.
My results were average:
GSTM1, GSTT1, SOD2, IL6 are the genes linked to the nutritional support required for optimum recovery. These genes allow for natural free-radical removal, though consuming more of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants can boost their effectiveness.
These are very generic suggestions. However, what matters here are not numbers, it’s the type of nutrient/supplement required. All the nutrients listed are anti-oxidative and have been proven to increase recovery. Even if your genetic profile doesn’t match mine, these should be on your list to consume if you regularly exert heavy efforts.
One more supplement I would add to this list (which I also consume, as noted previously in top supplements everyone should have on their office desk article) is turmeric. This is nature’s magical spice powder: it’s highly anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory.
Finally, the gene TNF listed towards the end of my results above is one I wish I would have. This gene is responsible for optimising your likelihood of recovery if your body is exposed to constant physical stress. This means you will recover sooner if you exercise regularly – a dream for each and every athlete.
4. Sports injury resilience
I guess mother nature giveth, nature taketh away… The results here indicate a high risk of injuries. That’s nothing too surprising as we’re all injury-prone.
What’s interesting is that the height of certain risks is based on genotype:
- COL5A1 – TT: Associated with increased tendinopathy risk (tendon injury)
- COL1A1 – GG: prone to ligament injury
- GDF – CT: Intermediate tendinopathy risk
As you can see these are… scary. To be honest, these are actually the pain points and weak links every single human being is exposed to. What is uncanny is that every injury I had is linked to either a tendon or ligament tear.
What made me raise my eyebrows most was the Tendinopathy and the COL5A1, GDF – CT genes, which run in families. It is not entirely clear what specific effect the gene has on tendon injury risk but it has been implicated with it in a variety of studies.
Tendinopathy is characterised by an irregular healing response with no signs of inflammation. The latter point is very important. You see most of injuries, tears and stress responses can be reduced with anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, however tendon injuries are not among them.
If you would want to optimise your running career, this is sadly a few of the genes one would want to pass on. Nevertheless, focussing on building a robust all-rounded body has allowed me to excel in spite of injuring some of those areas in the past (knock on wood).
So was I born for OCR?
I hope you found this breakdown interesting. I sure did.
One conclusion stands out: I was born to endure. This means choosing longer, slower races, such as Spartan Supers, Beasts… Tough Mudders and alike. Not ultras, however, as these tend to break down even the strongest of athletes. Also my genetic predisposition of being prone to ligament and tendon injuries, means I may not be able to really push myself to those extremes.
As I said, it’s been a few months since I got these results back. Since then, I’ve added more of prolonged endurance efforts to my training. I do a long and slow run every week (it’s pure pleasure) and I mainly go for medium to long distances in training and racing. This doesn’t mean that I dropped sprints, HIIT and intense bursts from my routine. They’re still important for boosting my VO2Max, essential for OCR performance. As I see it, the DNA testing just gave my training a more directed approach.
You can see more on my results and how they compare to British Olympic athletes in the article ‘I tested my DNA for sports performance. Here’s what I found out‘ which I originally posted on my site for high achievers.