INSIGHT INTO SPORT PERFORMANCE GENETICS
In the age where unlocking your performance potential is as easy as spitting into a tube, getting all the information to determine your fitness performance is really not a big deal.
The underlying question is: Do my genes determine my sporting performance?
It’s now an easy business to identify your nutritional needs, gauge your optimum recovery andconditioning tweaks you can apply. There is no doubt this information is crucial in optimising your sporting performance and determining a tailored lifestyle and training.
I would like to share my objective experience and raise the question:
Are my genes solely responsible for my sporting performance?
I will be your guinea pig here to answer this question.
I have always been into physical activity. As a kid, I remember the way back home from school would have to be at a full on sprint. I turned my street into a sprint track and it was just perfect for it. I wanted to be a footballer just like all the other kids my age.
After a childhood accident, my shoulder was not properly in place, I was imbalanced. My mum took me to a Doctor who specialised in sports injuries and recommended swimming as rehab. He was confident that due to my young age, my shoulder would heal within months, if the muscles were properly re-educated.
Pretty much within a week, I found myself in a swimming club following his advice.
Swimming was tough, I was 8 and that was a good age to start. It was also an ideal activity for an hyperactive kid like me!
After thousands of miles training, spending my evenings after school and school holidays in the pool (sometimes missing out on my school's other sports activities under the instruction of my coach), I prepared for big competitions and spent my weekends competing. By the age of 15, I placed first in the 100m freestyle at the French Championships within my category. By my late teens I was done with it!
Other sports like martial arts started to interest me (girls too!). My desire to train diminished... My parents didn’t approve, but respected my decision to stop competing.
I learnt in terms of my performance potential that; I was I built for short distance sprinting. You give me the 100m or 200m at a push; I will be in the top 3. The more distance you add, the further I will be from poll position.
Bottom line, I knew I was more suited to power events.
I was able to unlock my gene secrets!
When I started with genetic testing 5 years ago, I was so excited to have the possibility to unlock my performance potential secrets.
I find the concept of having the ability to explore ourselves from within so fascinating.
Having tested and coached hundreds of clients about their genetic make up, I still feel this same excitement for each and every one of them, whether the outcome is to identify genes for performance potential or health markers.
Your genes can tell you everything about yourself and guide you towards who you chose to be - much of which is determined by lifestyle, training and your diet.
What does my genetic data say about me as an athlete?
When I look at my results, I clearly remember my athletics teacher at school. My PE teacher from the age of 12 to 15, tried to convince my parents and myself many times to drop out of swimming and join the athletics academy instead.
He was really passionate about it, and I remember him being annoyed that my parents wouldn’t listen to him and he repeated many times: "this is a waste" while turning his back and walking away. It made me laugh at the time.
He told me I was a born sprinter and he would register me in every athletic competition at school. Without adequate training, apart from my daily sprint home from school, I won the 100m sprint and high jump, bringing medals home and titles for the school. I really enjoyed it. It was a bit different to swimming, my skin wasn’t itchy after training because of chlorine, and it felt easier...
Now for my results (or part of it):
With a genetic reading of 65% power and 35% endurance, my DNA results made sense to me.
I scored at high impact for both the ACE and ACTN3 genes. Technically I have the attributes of a competitive athlete. Obviously, I could also have those results and turned out to be a coach potato, but I am neither of those. It’s all about what you do with it.
Cleary I’m made for short bursts of energy and I’m most suited to high-intensity activities that require a massive output of power over a short period of time.
My training should therefore incorporate fast-paced intervals and strength work to stimulate the fast-paced anaerobic energy systems. I enjoyed short distance swimming, sprinting, martial arts, and rugby. During my late teens I was really into free-running, which resulted in a few injuries, but I still enjoyed it a lot!
The types of sessions I like to include in my gym training programmes are a mix of sprinting (various modes), short intervals, weight training, power training (such as Olympic lifting/cross fit) plyometrics with kettlebells and all sorts of jumping movement patterns and calisthenics.
Obviously it all depends on my fitness goals, but this is what I do and what my body is designed for.
Long distances, over-riding endurance events have always been rather challenging and now I can see why. Genetically they aren't where I excel.
However I am a high responder to VO2 max (NRF2) and lactate threshold training. My ACE gene (endurance and muscle efficiency) are optimal and benefit from a fast recovery, which all led me to try something different...
I opted for a Sprint triathlon, a new challenge for me.
My results indicate I have the potential capacity to undertake a heavy training load, with frequent inputs of exercise. However, hard training comes from a mixture of good genetics and slowly building a training foundation over the course of a number of years. I guess spending all my youth in a pool helped building the foundation.
Recovery is classically considered as the time, between sessions. According to training theories, we generally require about 2 days between hard training sessions. Because I have a fast rate of recovery, 2 days rest spread throughout the week should be enough with a heavy load of training.
The triathlon training really helped me to develop endurance, even though I’m not genetically gifted at long distance cycling or running. I really enjoy the difference too!
Energy systems overlap, so having developed an anaerobic system, the energy pathway most associated with sprinting, helps on the intensity I can put in and the intervals, as well as longer workouts.
I have enjoyed discovering this side of me that I have never really taped into. While I have no motivation to complete an Iron Man, I’d like to do more sprint triathlons.
Now it’s time to apply what I’ve learned here in the gym to new domains like climbing (which I’ve started), cycling and kayaking...
What should we learn from this?
Our genetics can now tell us our natural athletic dispositions, but we shouldn’t be pigeon holed by them. If you are an athlete, yes swear by them and apply the psychology as well as the physiology to learn to optimise and compensate for your genetic attributes.
If you are not an athlete by profession, you want to enjoy the time you train, choose something that suits you.
An active client of mine was always training at the gym, he knew he had decent endurance potential, but his results were a revelation to him at the right time. His robust aerobic engine brought him many of his fondest memories he explained of rowing, exploring nature and spending time with friends. He started coastal running while on holiday, booked himself on a few backpacking trips and started using his bicycle again around the beautiful streets of London and urban landscapes of the city.
So the real questions are:
• How will you apply your results to your fitness and where will pushing your athletic boundaries take you?
• Your genes may define you physically, but the rest is for you to define.
• What is there for you to explore?
The essential here is to enjoy the journey!
Would you like to find out more on this subject?
Click here for an article featuring me in Men's running magazine.
I’ll also be appearing in a new feature in Women's running magazine in June.
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