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Do you carry the sprinter gene?

As the 2016 summer olympics in Rio de Janeiro came to a close, there was a new question on the minds of WADA (The World Anti-Doping Agency). Did athletes utilize gene-doping to get ahead in the games? They didn’t find any evidence of it, but it had been an increasing concern. But what is gene doping and how might it work?

Think of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms). You’ve probably seen the term on a food label or read about them in an article. Scientists usually use a virus to add a beneficial gene to a plant’s DNA. A similar process could be used in humans to introduce DNA for a gene that would enhance athletic performance.

But don’t Olympians already have superior athletic genes? From the data so far, it looks like many of them do. For example, the ACTN3 gene has been associated with elite athletic performance in multiple studies. Of course, not everyone with an “Olympic” genetic profile will be a world class athlete, and there are some athletes who have defied genetic expectations. We now know of hundreds of genes linked to athletic performance, and athletes and trainers are more interested than ever in utilizing DNA to create the right training and injury prevention programs based on an individual’s genetic code.

Even if you aren’t an athlete but want to create your own training program (or if you just need motivation to get moving), looking at your genetic code might give you the help you need. There are some well studied genes that can guide you in your training.

The ACTN3 gene is known as the “speed gene” or “sprinter gene” and is linked to power performance. In general, there are two types of muscle fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch, and we all have some of both albeit in different ratios. Slow twitch muscle fibers are best for endurance activities and fast twitch muscle fibers are used for quick activities like running up the stairs or sprinting the 100 yard dash. If you carry one or both copies of a variant in the sprinter gene, you might be a fast runner and/or prefer resistance training to endurance training. Studies show that people carrying this genetic variant might have increased benefit from resistance training, reduced post-exercise muscle damage, reduced injury risk, and possible reduction in flexibility. Most world class sprinters have one or more copies of this gene variant, but so do a lot of other people. If you carry this variant, consider a strong focus on resistance training, but don’t forget cardio (you might especially enjoy sprinting and High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT) and flexibility training (even if you don’t enjoy it).

Conversely, if you don’t carry the sprinter copies of this gene, don’t despair! Perhaps we all come from a long line of nomads. You are probably very good at endurance activities, but you can still benefit from HIIT and strength training. Take strength training slowly to reduce your risk of injury (start with lower weights and fewer reps) and you might enjoy yoga, pilates and other activities requiring increased flexibility.

A lot of people aren’t interested in athletic performance. Their goals are more health and weight related. Your genes can help you there too. One out of six people carry a variant of the FTO gene. This gene was originally dubbed the ‘fatso’ gene since it was so large, and it was soon discovered that it was linked to obesity. The bad news is that people who carry this genetic variant are at a much higher risk of obesity. The good news is that they are also very responsive to lifestyle changes like diet (especially decreasing saturated fat) and moderate intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking, mowing the lawn). A recent study showed that exercise can reduce the effects of this gene by up to 33%! So while we know that exercise is good for everyone, your unique genetic profile can allow you to choose the most effective fitness plan for your body. If you are interested in learning how your DNA can be used to create personalized diet and exercise goals, please contact us today at!

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