DNA testing for fitness
Fitness detectives are hot on the trail of guaranteed training results, but is DNA any smarter than your own body?
We’ve all got one – a friend who only needs to look at a pair of trainers to achieve muscle tone. But those of us born without the effortless gene can make our own luck, according to science boffins, who say shaping up is as simple as working with our DNA. You mightn’t lose an ounce from a lifetime of Zumba, let alone two classes a week, but sign up for circuits and watch the junk in that trunk dissolve.
“By analysing 18 gene variants associated with exercise and sports performance, a sport and exercise genetic test kit will help you to understand whether you are genetically better suited to endurance or power-based exercise and sport — or a mixture of the two,” says Australian company MyGene, which has developed a DIY test that comes with a 20-page report spanning endurance, power, muscle recovery and injury risk, and recommendations for using the facts to optimise training results and minimise injury risk.
Another Australian company, FitGenes, is also pushing DNA testing for fitness. The company trawls a mouth swab for a variation in the 40 genes relating to areas of body fat metabolism, cardiovascular performance, muscle and bone health, inflammation and recovery, and detoxification.
“The gene variation is where your genetic code differs slightly from the normal code resulting in overproduction or underproduction of proteins and enzymes that will affect your physiology,” the company says. Your variations, along with an exhaustive nutrition, lifestyle and metabolism questionnaire, are then translated into plain English in a consultation with a FitGenes trainer.
But before you buy those metallic micro-shorts, consider the argument that such tests aren’t a one word answer. The Human Genetics Association of Australasia points to over 187 genes linked to or associated with a performance or fitness phenotype.
“Sport performance remains a complex phenotype, and caution is needed to avoid a simplistic and overly deterministic approach to genetic testing,” it says in a report.
Some pundits argue instead for tuning in to your own body. One of the key determinants of which style of fitness will work for a person is the proportions of muscle fibre types they have, which can be ascertained from whether you perform better at short, sharp, sprint events or endurance activities as well as whether you have a variation of the ACTN3 gene. There is also the old fashioned method of monitoring actual results against goals or results expected based on your training. The simplest way is to base objectives on measurable markers including body fat percentage or skin fold, and key circumferences of the upper arm, thigh, bust, waist and hips.