Your genes are what makes you you and there is no one like you! I think genetics are extremely exciting and being the geek that I am, I loved that part of the cell biology course during my BSc-years. When the opportunity to try genetic testing came up I was not hard to ask, neither was my almost, but not quite, as geeky husband.
Why do we have genetic testing anyway?
Genes are “regions” in your DNA and they act as instructions for building proteins. The Human Genome Project has estimated that humans have between 20.000 and 25.000 genes. Imagine mapping out all of that! With genetic testing the goal is not to map out all of your genetic material, because different tests target different things. For example, testing for a BRCA-gene, which is associated with breast cancer, have different procedures of analyses than testing for a marker for carbohydrate sensitivity, for example.
Aside from determining the fatherhood of a baby or whose blood is on a murder weapon, genetic testing has an important place in modern medicine. The human body has been struck with different diseases and conditions over the course of its existence, while we still have very little knowledge as to why the body develops many of these conditions. Why does someone develop cancer while another, seemingly similar, human does not? Why does someone get Parkinson’s disease and another not? Some diseases and conditions can be explained by environmental factors, but there is more. The “more” are internal, yet harder to explain, factors contributing to disease and it has driven modern medicine towards mapping all the human genes and working with pairing them to see how they influence a condition or disease. The beauty of this is that medicine become personalized, meaning that one can prevent a disease form happening by tailoring treatments to your genetic make-up.
There are TONS of legal and ethical questions around this, which I will not go into in this blog post, but I think this site sums some of them effectively up.
Genetic testing for medical purposes makes perfect sense to me, but for sports performance? Let’s see about that…We took the tests mostly for fun and out of curiosity, but also because genetic testing outside of medicine is becoming more and more usual and available everyone. Therefore, I wanted more information about it.
So a while back Eirik and I took a genetic test each and we were somewhat shocked by our results. So much so that I contacted the company to ask about their procedures for handling the test kits. Our discoveries certainly made me question the procedures for genetic analyses at the AthGene lab in Denmark, and if these were in fact the correct results they certainly got me thinking. For your information the lab assured me that they did not switch our test like we initially thought and AthGene have been of great service. In fact, a switch could not have happened due to special barcodes on the containers.
In case you are wondering if you want to take such a test or not, I’d like to offer you insight into how mine went and let you know what I got out of it. This may be over-sharing a bit, but the info is not that personal to me, even if the genetic material is mine.
Without further ado, here are my genetic test results revealed!
My take on this:
I could have screenshot all Eirik’s results as well, but that would have made this post insanely long and you wouldn’t bother to actually read it. Instead, I’ll explain the results that shocked when we first saw them.
Who’s got the Power?
Those of you how know my husband know that he is really fast when it comes to all kinds of sprinting, both top speed and acceleration is strong in that one. He has always been strong without spending that much time on strength training and builds muscle fast if he can be bothered (he can’t be bothered btw). Speed is his forte, he is known for it and is undefeated on short distances in our ski club. His endurance was excellent back in the day when he was skiing full-time so he definitely responds well to VO2max-training and endurance training. He loves fast intervals and used to think the really long zone 1 trainings were boring as hell. Every physical ability that he displays speaks to a power profile.
Then you have me. Not the fastest horse in the stable, you could say. Eirik used to say I had the speed of a “used teabag” (thanks a lot, babe). Yet, I got the Elite power profile and he didn’t! I don’t know if he was disappointed or not, but I was quite pleased with myself of course.
The reason I got “elite” on the power profile is due to the variant of ACTN3 genotype I have, and this gene is associated with human elite athletic profile and it would seem only 18% of the Caucasian population has it. The gene is expressed fast-twitch (type II) muscle fibers, but it seems that the effect of the gene is different in men and women. You would think that a person with “sprinter genes” should be naturally fast. It’s not that I am not fast at all, but I have never actually trained to be fast either. All of my training have been more on the endurance side of things, even in ballet where you do a lot of repetitions even if the characteristics of the movement looked explosive, many reps of big jumps for example. To be honest, I don’t really know how I would respond to power training when you take endurance training out of the mix. On the other hand, we have Eirik who is naturally fast and has been an endurance athlete all his life. This made very little sense to us. Not that we are at all comparable as man and woman.
According to my genetic material I should be faster, but this test did not measure muscle fiber type composition. We would nee a biopsy for that. However, it is common knowledge that people with a higher occurrence of fast twitch type II-fibers are faster than people with more slow twitch type I-fibers. It might be that my type II-fibers express the “elite” variant of then ATCTN3 genotype, but my muscles might not be as dense in type II in comparison to Eirik’s muscles(?). Just a theory off the top of my head.
Night owl or early bird?
Another thing that surprised us was the Sleep category. All living organisms have internal biological clocks that says something about what your chronotype is. This speaks to what time of day you would get the most out of work, training, be creative, make hard decisions etc and everyones biological clock does not tick at the same time or pace.
I am an early bird chronotype for sure! I hate training late, working late, eating late and I am such a light weight when it comes to stay up late. I love morning workouts, breakfast food and just getting up really early and get a head start before the rest of the world. My dear husband on the other hand is a tight sleeper. He can work late into the night and would easily sleep in if it hadn’t been for me bugging him to get up and drive me to work, train with me or just get up at all. Where he could sleep until lunch on Saturdays, I get up around 6-7am. You’d think I’d be the Early bird and he the Night owl. Think again! It was the exact opposite. Now we were really thinking this can’t be right, can it?!
Perhaps I have this Early bird life because I have never tried anything else? Maybe I would be even more productive and perform even better both physically and cognitively if I pushed everything a couple of hours? For the last years my life has been pretty rigid with little room for partying and late night wining and dining, because I have other priorities. During my first years of studying sports sciences there was partying, I’ll admit, and quite a lot of it too. Still, I choose to get up and to school early because I felt that the time between 8 am and noon was when I could get the most and the best work done. I have no logical explanation for this early bird/night owl thing. I just doesn’t add up, but as long as I feel that I have energy and have progress in my training I think I’m doing okay.
Misinterpretations and wishful thinking
With genetic testing for being relatively new, there is limited knowledge and one should be concerned that the results may be misinterpreted by the lay people. These results are not the be all end all. Maybe I’ll be careful of my salt intake, I am training to get faster, but endurance training will always be in the mix and I go to bed when I am tired and feel ready for the day when I wake up. I am not about to complicate my life by turning my schedule upside down to fit a night owl.
Should we belive current research you should be very careful to ascribe such genetic tests too much importance. They can in fact not predict sports performance at the moment.
I have been following the research of Dr Claude Bouchard and he states that:
“Most companies will tell consumers these genetic variants have the potential to define your predisposition to become an athlete, that you have the genetic characteristics shared by world-caliber athletes. That’s their main pitch(….) Many of them also say knowing about your DNA profile could guide you in individualizing your training regimen in order to optimize performance, which is even more complicated, but none of their genomic markers have that potential — none.”
Mikael Mattsson, a visiting assistant professor of physiology at Stanford University in California is the managing investigator of the ELITE study. The aim of the ELITE study is to analyze the world’s best endurance athletes to determine if they share a specific genetic profile as well as inherited and environmental factors in performance. He informs that:
People are interested in finding out if their genetic profile means they should focus on strength or endurance. But from that to the idea that the tests being sold can actually predict anything about performance? At the moment, that’s a far leap.
Read the rest of the interviews here.
All in all, I am quite pleased with the results as they tell me that I’m not completely lost when wanting to partake and do well in sports activities. Since I am aiming to become faster the genes are at least on my side, but the training is what really counts if I want some good results! Other than that these results are merely fun facts. Fun fun facts, though!