Along with eating healthy and following the general guidelines for a healthy life, you can do the most good to your body with regular exercise. However, to make it as effective as possible, it needs to be tailored to your specific characteristics – and your genes!
Not everyone will benefit from the same type of exercise, and that might lead to disappointment and unnecessary stress. We all want to see the results of our efforts, and sometimes that requires merely adjusting the way we approach the problem. So how can your genes help you optimize your exercise? Scientists have uncovered several genetic variations that influence your athletic predispositions.
Let us take a look at how genetic testing and knowing which variant you carry can help you get the best out of those gym visits!
We have two types of muscle fibres: fast-twitch and slow-twitch. The fast-twitch fibres are responsible for rapid and explosive actions such as sprinting, while slow-twitch fibres contract with less force, but persist longer and are ideal for endurance activities such as long-distance running, swimming, or cycling. The quantity of one type over the other is determined by our genes, mostly the ACTN3 gene. We test two genetic variants within ACTN3 and the PPARalpha genes, which influence the type of sports activity you are better at – whether you are a sprinter or a marathoner.
Fat burning gene
How easy losing fat would be if we had help in burning excessive fat. Some people actually do, in the shape of a rare genetic variation of the LPL gene. It is commonly referred to as the “fat-burning gene” and as its name suggests, it helps those lucky individuals burn fat faster than average.
Soft tissue injury risk
Every time you do sports, you subject your body to the risk of injury, from pulled muscles to broken bones. By far, the most common sports injuries are those that affect soft tissues – muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. They can be caused by improper execution of physical activity (not to mention our own clumsiness), but there can be a genetic component, too. Achilles tendon injury is a widespread problem with many athletes, occurring when excessive and repetitive load surpasses the tendon’s ability to regenerate. The resulting condition is called Achilles tendinopathy and can occur more often in people with a genetically determined reduced flexibility of the tendon.
Do you know (and envy) people who thrive under pressure like it’s the fuel for their productivity? It is very likely that they carry the so-called warrior gene. It refers to a variation of the COMT gene, which codes for a COMT enzyme. This enzyme breaks down chemicals released during stress. Depending on what variant of the COMT gene you have, the COMT enzyme it produces can be either very active or not. And that determines if you are a warrior or a worrier, which in practice means how good you are at coping with stress, which can encompass intensive physical activity.
VO2max – aerobic potential
Like every cell, our muscles need oxygen to function. And the more intense the activity, the more oxygen they require. But our oxygen consumption is limited to a certain point we call the VO2max It means the maximum volume of oxygen our body is able to use within one minute and the higher the limit, the more capable are we of performing endurance exercises. If the genetic analysis shows that your VO2max potential is higher than you thought, it means there is room for improvement. You can adjust both your nutrition and your physical activity accordingly to reach your peak!
Remember that feeling of burning muscles a day or two after a good exercise? While some people suffer from it after every activity, others seem to be pretty much immune to it. The catch is in their genetic makeup. Physical activity can cause oxidative stress by increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which affects the body’s immune system and induces inflammatory responses. Increased production of ROS can lead to oxidative damage and how well our body removes ROS partially depends on our genes. We analyse a group of several genes involved in the removal of ROS, and the results tell us of the body's capacity to recover after training.
When we talk about sports, we can’t forget the motor that runs this complex machine we call our body – the heart. An incredible organ that never sleeps or rests is especially vital during sports activity because it puts a lot of strain on our heart. Different scientific studies have shown that to a certain point, our heart capacity potential is determined by our genes. Our heart is a muscle, and like any other, it can be trained to grow and become more efficient. The key is knowing whether your heart handles endurance exercise easily, or they might be too demanding. In this case, you will do yourself more good with activities that are not as hard on the heart, such as yoga.
Muscle volume gene
Big muscles are not solely a result of hard training. The increase in muscle volume is also determined by genetics, namely a gene called IL15RA, involved in the prevention of muscle breakdown, lean body mass, and muscle building in response to training. The IL15RA gene regulates the bioavailability of the IL-15 protein, a growth factor expressed in our muscles, therefore directly affecting muscle size and their strength.
Lean body mass
When looking at models and athletes, we all want to be lean like them, but most of us don’t like the idea of starving or spending every minute of our free time in the gym. Luckily for some, genetics is on their side. Lean body mass, or total body weight without the fat, is heavily influenced by genetics with heritability up to an astounding 84 per cent. If you are genetically predisposed to higher lean body mass, you have a better chance of sculpting your body through exercise.
Gene for muscle fatigue
While exercising, do your muscles quickly feel fatigued, and the burning sensation prevents you from continuing? It might be genetic. Specific mutation within a gene called MCT1 affects the rate at which lactate is cleared out of your muscle cells. That can additionally affect your recovery time after a workout.
As you can see, your genes are a significant factor in determining your athletic potential. Knowing your genetic predispositions is the first step in creating an optimized personal exercise plan, which will benefit your body the most. And the second step? Motivation and determination! So let’s burn that fat and build those muscles!