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How Genetics and Athletics Work Together

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The Role of Genetics in Athletic Performance



When it comes to sports and athletic performance, understanding the complexities of your own physical and physiological profile is important for optimizing performance, improving health, and minimizing the risk of injury. 


Understanding Your Sports Performance and Health Profile

To improve physical ability and optimize personal health, understanding the specifics of your athletic profile is essential, and it should be examined at the most fundamental level - your genetic makeup. 

In fact, your DNA holds the blueprint for your physical capabilities, influencing a variety of attributes that are essential to athletic performance. 


Sports profile:

A DNA sports profile covers the genetic factors affecting major athletic performance factors, including power and strength, resistance and resilience, and cardiovascular and aerobic capacity:

  • Power and strength: Individual genetic variations can greatly shape muscle fiber composition, which in turn determines an athlete's natural ability to produce power and strength. Genes related to muscle fiber type distribution, muscle size, and contractile properties play a major part in determining an athlete's potential for explosive movements and overall strength.
  • Resistance and Endurance: Genetic factors also determine an athlete's resistance and resilience. Mutations in genes linked to muscle repair, inflammation, and stress response can affect how well an athlete is able to withstand physical challenges and recover from injury or intense training.
  • Cardiovascular and aerobic capacity: Cardiovascular and aerobic performance is strongly influenced by genetics, with particular gene variants affecting heart function, oxygen uptake, and energy metabolism. These genetic factors can define an athlete's efficiency in using oxygen during exercise and their overall endurance capacity.


Cardiovascular Genetic Profile:

A cardiovascular genetic profile provides insight into heart rate variability and maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max):

  • VO2 max refers to the maximum rate at which an individual can consume oxygen during intense physical activity and is a primary indicator of aerobic performance and endurance capacity. 
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the variation in the time interval between heartbeats, indicating the heart's capacity to respond to varying demands and stress levels, and is often used as a measure of autonomic nervous system function and overall cardiovascular health.

The Fick equation is also used to calculate VO2 max, which is the product of cardiac output and the difference between arterial and venous oxygen content. This equation highlights the importance of cardiac function in determining VO2 max. 

Genetic factors play a very important part, contributing to 43-72% of the variability in VO2 max from person to person. Regular endurance training can improve VO2 max by approximately 15-20%, suggesting that even with a genetic predisposition, training can significantly improve cardiovascular fitness.


Muscle Genetic Profile

Muscle fibers are classified into two main types: 

  • Type I (slow-twitch) fibers, which are more efficient at using oxygen to generate energy for sustained activities.
  • Type II (fast-twitch) fibers, which are more efficient for short bursts of speed or power. 

Your muscle genetics profile offers insight into multiple aspects of your muscular performance, including:

  • Muscle strength: Your genetics greatly determine your muscular strength, with 30% to 95% of your muscular strength estimated to be inherited. This variation in strength is based on the type of contraction, the rate of contraction, and the specific muscle group targeted.
  • Muscle response to resistance training: Muscle response to resistance training can vary widely among individuals, with differences in strength and hypertrophy being determined by genetic and other non-modifiable factors. Cellular aging and the secretome of senescent cells may affect muscle response to physiological stressors, particularly resistance training.
  • Skeletal muscle performance: With aging, skeletal muscle performance is affected by a decrease in the proliferative capacity and number of so-called satellite cells, as well as a loss of cross-sectional area of type II fibers. Satellite cell dysfunction is one possible cause of muscle aging, though this is still a matter of debate.
  • Muscle fatigue: Mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to increased accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and energy deficiency in skeletal muscle, leaving it prone to atrophy and contributing to muscle fatigue.
  • Muscle regenerative capacity: The ability to regenerate muscle is influenced by extrinsic factors specific to satellite cells and the secretome, which can negatively affect the regenerative potential of these cells.


Metabolic Genetic Profile

A Metabolic Genetic Profile provides specific insights into how your body processes and converts nutrients into energy. The following information is important for designing personalized nutrition and exercise plans that align with your body's natural tendencies for energy consumption and recovery:

  • Overall benefits of exercise for the body: Regular physical activity brings numerous benefits to your overall health. It helps control weight, lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles and bones, reduce anxiety, and improve overall well-being. Physical activity is also particularly beneficial for people with diabetes, by lowering blood glucose levels and improving insulin sensitivity.
  • Insulin sensitivity benefits: Physical activity has been shown to play an important role in improving insulin sensitivity, which is vital for managing diabetes and preventing its occurrence. The exercise-induced increase in insulin sensitivity is presumed to reflect adaptations in muscle insulin signaling and GLUT4 protein expression and action. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Cholesterol benefits: Regular physical activity positively modulates cholesterol levels by lowering harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while boosting healthy HDL cholesterol. These changes help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • BMI benefits: Physical activity is effective in reducing body weight and body mass index (BMI), especially when combined with a healthy diet. Exercise helps prevent obesity, which is a significant risk factor for multiple metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.


Injury Risk and Genetic Predisposition

Genetic analysis aimed at athletic performance assesses your risk of sports injuries and helps you plan a preventive strategy to avoid common and specific injuries. Understanding your genetic predispositions, such as connective tissue strength or bone density, allows for tailored preventive measures to improve resilience and ensure safer exercise.

  • General injury risk: Genetic factors are involved in the overall risk of musculoskeletal injury and shape the response to physical activities and sports. By identifying gene variations linked to injury risk, training and conditioning programs can be tailored to prevent injury.
  • Joint injury risk: Risk of joint injuries, including knee and shoulder injuries, appears to be influenced by genetic predisposition. It is well known, for example, that certain genetic variants are linked to an increased risk of shoulder dislocation and ACL tears.
  • Overload fracture risk: Overload fractures are also associated with genetic susceptibility, with variations in genes related to bone density and strength playing a significant role. Understanding these genetic predispositions can help guide strategies to prevent stress fractures and other bone-related injuries.
  • Risk of tendon and ligament tears: Certain genetic markers have been implicated in diseases of tendons and ligaments, such as the Achilles tendon and the rotator cuff. Genetic association studies have shown that polymorphisms within genes encoding extracellular matrix proteins are likely to be involved in tendon and ligament injuries.



Understanding how your genes shape your athletic profile helps to create a roadmap for unlocking your athletic potential while ensuring that your body's overall health is preserved. 

By revealing what your DNA has to say, you can learn more about your genetic predisposition regarding multiple aspects of athletic performance and health than ever before. With this knowledge, you are able to optimize your training by tailoring your exercise and recovery practices to your genetic profile. 

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