How Much Does DNA Impact Athletic Performance?

Training Tips

How Much Does DNA Impact Athletic Performance?

Reading Time: 4 minutes 44 seconds


Date: 2019-12-31T00:00:00-05:00

Olympic athletes, professional sports players, and even your friend who wins every tennis match you play together—are their feats of athletic performance based wholly on genetics or are they affected by something more? If you think it takes more than just genetics, you're right. But how much more? And what can you do to alter what your genes provide?

What Genetic Traits Impact Athletic Performance?

DNA defines our overall potential and 40% of our abilities. That means a sprinter could have the potential to break a world record, but without the training time, proper nutrition, and optimal lifestyle choices, they may never get there.

More than half of your ability is within your control as an athlete. And with genetic testing, we can now understand where a person is starting from and use that to guide the 60% that is within your control. As a personal trainer, you can use this information to realign your program design and nutritional coaching specifically to each client to get them to their goals faster:

  • Fitness response to cardio

  • Body composition response to strength training

  • Intrinsic motivation to exercise

  • Power and endurance potential

  • Exercise heart rate response

  • Systemic inflammation and injury risk

Fitness Response to Cardio

This genetic trait carries some weight when it comes to athletic performance. Fitness response to cardio will show a client the degree to which their fitness levels will increase by performing cardio exercise. When looking at fitness levels, there are many factors that contribute, such as:

  • Lung capacity

  • Resting heart rate

  • Recovery rate

These are key factors to consider while designing training programs, especially when working with athletes. People can fall into normal, below average, or low genotypes for this trait. Their specific genotype will tell them how often they should perform cardio exercise, what length of time and at what intensity it should be performed. All those aspects can be crucial to a personal trainer working with an athlete.

Body Composition Response to Strength Training

Depending on the sport, body composition can be a critical factor. Sports like wrestling, track and field, bodybuilding, and functional fitness athletes all can see a benefit to having a lower body composition. Now, that is not saying it's not important for other sports, just that it may not have as large of an impact.

This trait can help a personal trainer understand not only how the athlete is going to react to strength training, but also what kind of strength training is best for them:

  • Lower loads and higher reps?

  • Higher loads and lower reps?

  • Kettlebells or bootcamp style training?

This trait will even lead a personal trainer to understand how many days per week an athlete needs to strength train to make the gains required for their sport.

Intrinsic Motivation to Exercise

This trait is an interesting one, especially when working with athletes. Intrinsic motivation to exercise gives you great insight into what drives your client to train for their sport.

Those with a more likely genotype are going to need less external motivation. They simply enjoy training just to train and don't necessarily need a contest or training partner to get them through it. For personal trainers, these clients are easy and thrive in a virtual coaching session. You can give them a task and they will just complete it without needing additional coaxing.

On the flip side, those who have a less likely genotype are going to require a bit more motivation to keep them going. These are the clients who might need a workout partner or a competition or game to train for. They don't necessarily enjoy the process of training the same way they enjoy competing in their sport or with a partner. These are the clients who might not be great for a virtual coaching setting, however, they see the value as it helps them excel in their sport.

Power and Endurance Potential

What can be interesting about our DNA is it can even tell us what sort of exercise we are predisposed to be good at. A person can fall into one of three categories:

  • More power

  • Equal power and endurance

  • More endurance

This is the genetic predisposition of the muscle fibers in the body. This is an area where training has a lot to do with the actual output of an athlete. Suppose you have a marathon runner who has worked on their running for years, becoming faster and more conditioned. Their test may indicate they are an equal power and endurance genotype. But through training, they have gained more endurance muscle fibers to allow them to be better at that sport.

What this trait can tell a personal trainer is for the athlete's genotype and their specific sport what type of training is going to be the most beneficial for them.

Exercise Heart Rate Response

Most trainers working with athletes, or really any client for that matter, understand how important heart rate can be. Having a lower resting heart rate can be beneficial. As athletes become more fit, the heart rate does not have to rise as much to keep oxygen flowing to the muscles. The heart does not have to work as hard to get that oxygen out and this will give the person a great endurance potential.

Exercise heart rate response clues the trainer in on what sort of results in heart rate a client will have by performing longer endurance exercise. It also can indicate how well a client handles endurance training. Clients may only have the genetics for a slight decrease in resting heart rate or they may have the genetics for a moderate decrease in resting heart rate.

Systemic Inflammation and Injury Risk

These are assessed as two separate traits; however, they do go hand in hand. Systemic inflammation is the inflammation in the body we don't see. Genetic testing can tell us if we are more or less susceptible to this sort of inflammation. If the athlete is more susceptible, they may need extra rest time and they may need to strategically plan their recovery activities between training sessions.

Those with a higher risk of systemic inflammation typically are at a higher risk of injury. Especially when working with athletes, this is crucial for the personal trainer to understand. This can offer insight into what the athlete might need for recovery and rest days as well as the volume and progressions during training.

Enhance Your Program Design

These traits are all easy to test for and trainers can use that information to make effective adjustments to the client's training program right away. Understanding how an athlete's body works and how they are motivated can unlock the potential for them to get to the highest level in their sport.

If you are interested in learning more about how DNA testing can help your clients, check out the ISSA's DNA-Based Fitness Coach. Get specific in your training and get better results.

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