DNA Testing for Athletes

Should you run a marathon or stick to sprinting, eat low fat or low carb, train your V02 Max or stick to getting strong for running? Your DNA can reveal your hidden code for optimum fitness and health and save you time and energy with a bespoke eating and training plan. Fiona Bugler did the test.

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THE TEST

A simple swab using a special cotton-wool bud is inserted into the mouth to pick up your DNA from saliva. The testers know nothing about their subject, other than their date of birth.

The test identifies 50 key genes that can reveal information that relate to performance, fitness and health. “It’s a way to eliminate some of the unknowns when you’re planning your best training and nutrition programme,” explains Tom Lancashire, an Olympian and DNAFit Sports Scientist.

FITNESS

Endurance or Power

76.9% endurance profile

As a marathon runner who responds well to low intensity training and doesn’t build muscle quickly, this matches what I would have thought was true. I’m pleased to find I also have a gene that’s mainly found in sprinters — good for those sprint finishes. Tom points out that your profile doesn’t dictate the type of activity you do but it can help you to understand the best way to train. For example, an Olympic sprinter discovered he had a mainly endurance profile. This didn’t stop him being an Olympic sprinter, but he had found that in training he had always benefitted more from more endurance type sprint training such as running 200M reps.

Aerobic potential (VO2 Max)

Medium

VO2 max is the most commonly used marker for endurance potential and by looking at the gene that codes for growing capillaries, the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), the test can work out how trainable your V02 max is.

V02 Max (along with running economy and lactate threshold) is one of the key factors in long distance running success. However as Tom points out, the medium finding, just means I can fine-tune my training and cross train to boost both power and endurance. If the result had come in as ‘low’, the recommendation would be not to focus on training V02 max, but rather spend time emphasising other elements, such as running economy.

Post-Exercise Recovery

Fast

Research has shown that certain genetic variations infer a delayed recovery, however for me this isn’t the case. The assessment does however reveal I can boost my natural ability to deal with oxidative stress by eating antioxidants and getting more Vitamin A, C and E into my diet, and due to variations in gene(s) related to immune support and recovery [IL6] it is recommended that I include omega-3 fatty acids in my diet.

Injury risk

High

As well as a higher risk of soft tissue injury the results show that my bone strength could be compromised and that repetitive motion of running could lead to problems. I do have early signs of osteopenia in my hips, so again this seems to back up what I already knew. But once again the test is simply helping me to fine-tune my training and re-emphasises the need for including strength and resistance work into my schedule.

DIET

The DNAFit test recommends three types of eating plans depending on your genes: low carb, low fat or the Mediterranean diet for those in the middle. My genes indicate I need to ditch refined carbohydrates, as I’m carb sensitive, which means I will take more energy per calorie from carbs than someone with the opposite genetic profile. This means I’m at risk of blood sugar spikes and longer term this could lead to CHD and Diabetes. Coming from a family riddled with heart disease, I’m taking special notice of this advice. The gene concerned is TCF7L2, and I have CT variation, which makes me 1.8 times more likely to get diabetes than someone with CC. Someone with TT is twice as likely. (note the ‘C’, and ‘T’ will have come from your parents and combines to make up ‘you’). This doesn’t mean that I don’t eat carbs, but instead I should opt for low GI versions and get eight per cent of my calories from refined carbs.

The good news is that I’m good at taking on board saturated fat. The much studied FTO gene shows that I have the TT version which means I can have a lot of fat in my diet and it will have little or no affect on my weight. FTO is the gene responsible for mobilising fat. I can take in 10 per cent of my calories from saturated fat (someone at the other end of the scale would take in six per cent and in the middle eight per cent).

The test also reveals what your requirements are for Vitamin D, essential for bone health, B vitamins, which have an affect on conditions such as anaemia, and whether you need to take on board anti oxidants to deal with free radicals (caused by hard exercise, pollution, smoking etc). It can also reveal whether you are lactose intolerant or prone to coeliac disease.

VERDICT

For anyone serious about fitness, health and improving performance, this test really is worth the investment. It will save you time, and allow you to fine tune your training. For me, it confirmed a lot of things I knew, for example I need to take Vitamin D and add in strength training to protect my bones, and I’m an aerobic monster who responds best to mileage.

Find out more: I used The Fitness Diet Pro, a combination of the DNAFit Fitness Premium and DNAFit Diet Professional. http://www.dnafit.com/store/.