Can You Predict Athletic Performance With Genetics?

Can you predict athletic performance with genetics? Let’s take a look at Zaire Wade, a 15-year-old boy barely into high school. This young man is already at the peak of his basketball success. He stands 6-foot-3 and plays for the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers in California. Did he inherit his ability from his dad, American Basketball Legend Dwayne Wade?

Zaire’s skills at Basketball are hypnotic—he has a lefty jump shot and can gather and shoot on balance. His side shimmy to the right, his excellent ball-handling skills, and his sharp court vision are all magically in line to consistently produce dramatic results. ESPN says he is a 199th ranked player at the 2020 NCCA recruiting class, with a rating of 78/100.

Can You Predict Athletic Performance With Genetics?

Not only Zaire but other fantastic players such as Le Bron James, Cole Anthony, Vashti Cunningham, Dennis Rodman Jr– to name a few, have left a mark in the sporting world at such young ages.

All of these athletes have the same thing in common– they belonged to families with one or more athletes. So does that answer our question, can you predict athletic performance with genetics?

genetics dna and a man

Is It All Genetics?

Maybe it does a bit but not completely because a successful athlete is one who is highly committed and dedicated to training. It takes decades of hard work and practice to excel at any skill.

Even for top-level athletes, there is no guarantee of success. But then again, some exceptionally gifted athletes show an extraordinary performance before being subjected to training programs. Some athletes born into non-athletic families respond better to training programs than others coming from athletic families.

So, does “nature” or “nurture” better determine physical capacities and athletic performance?

Factors that affect athletic performance—Are they connected to DNA?

Genetics, according to researchers, control at least 40% of an athlete’s abilities to perform well. The rest of the 60% depends upon an athlete’s hard work and determination. Let’s take a look at some elements of a fitness regime to determine if “nature” or “nurture” has the upper hand:

  • Fitness Response to Cardio Exercises: While designing a fitness program, keep specific pointers in mind—heart rate while resting, recovery rate, and lung capacity. These traits differ from people of different genotypes and will help the trainer to determine the hours of cardio exercises required to excel.
  • Body Composition Response to Strength Exercise: Body composition is the percentage of fat, water, bones, and muscles that make up a body. Individuals with a lower-body structure perform better at strength exercises. All individuals fall in one of the three body types—endomorphic, ectomorphic and mesomorphic. Mesomorphs, naturally tend to have a faster metabolism and active muscle cells will pack on muscles with ease. 
  • Intrinsic Motivation: A trainer needs to understand what fuels an individual’s passion for willingly participating and excelling in rigorous fitness routines. Individuals who have a favorable gene are more naturally receptive to training and do not need excessive coaxing to perform better. 
  • Endurance: Endurance is the ability to continue making an effort over a long period; for example, aerobic endurance required for distance cycling. Power is exerting maximum force in the least time possible, for example, sprinting. Genetic variations in individuals confirm his body’s power and endurance capacity, which further facilitates the decision as to which sports are more suitable for him.
  • Heart-Rate: Individuals having a lower resting heart rate is more tolerant of the strain and rigor of training. Genetics do play a role at predisposing a person towards a slight or a moderate decrease at resting heart rate level. 
  • Inflammation and Injury: Certain individuals may be genetically more susceptible to systemic inflammation (septic-shock or multiple organ dysfunctions), which further increases the chances of tissue tear during training. 
blue and gold dna helix

Polymorphisms-Do genetic variations hold a promise?

In just 20 years, we have seen significant advances in the fields of biotechnology and molecular biology. We can now identify more than 200 polymorphisms or gene variations that have at least some association with features of physical exercise. We believe the number of polymorphisms is likely to increase in the future.

Scientific studies show that out of these 200 genes associated with athletic performance, two polymorphisms impose a consistent influence on athletic performance—ACE I/D and ACTN3 R577X, the first being related to endurance and the latter to power.

A research paper titled “Genetic Influence on Athletic Performance” by Lisa M. Guth and Stephen M. Roth has provided the heritability of athletic traits: athletic status stands approximately at 66%, height stands at a whopping 80%, aerobic endurance at 50%, and muscular strength and power between 30% and 83%.

Testing Methods For Endurance

Now I know that a lot of this information may be complicated, but I need to put this in here because the testing we do will have these variables. The results are interpreted into lay terms when you receive them. Not to mention that a member of DNA is the Way will set up a session to go over the DNA test report with you. Having this information is the knowledge that will help you understand better what your body says. Please look at this information as we will go over the reports together.

In the ACE I/D gene, the ACE I allele is associated with lower serum and tissue, and the ACE D (deleted) allele is associated with higher serum and tissue. The ACE I/I genotype is strongly linked with higher endurance performance and exercise efficiency, while the D/D genotype is strength and power performance.

The second variation is ACTN3 R577X, a gene code for the protein α-actinin-3. A protein active muscle fibers during strenuous exercising sessions. Muscle protein α-actinin-3 makes muscles contract at incredibly fast speeds in Olympic runners. Several studies have shown that the ACTN3 genotype is strongly associated with powerful performance.

In R577X polymorphism, the R allele is connected with power-oriented sporting events such as soccer or cycling, while the XX genotype links with lower muscle strength and sprinting ability. Children possessing XX genotype do not make α-actinin-3 protein and, therefore, might excel in sports which require endurance such as skiing, swimming, or distance running. Two copies of the R variant (RR) in children may mean they will be better at sports requiring power and endurance, such as sprinting or weight-lifting.

Testing Methods For Injury

We see two types of injuries in sports—concussion and tendinopathies. A gene frequently studied regarding concussion or mild brain injury has been the gene APOE, and of its alleles, ε4 is in Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Though researches are unclear, many athletes who suffered worse outcomes from concussions possessed this risk allele ε4. A variant of ε4, named G-219T, is three times more connected to worse results from concussions.

As for tendinopathy or tendinitis, which is a disorder in the tendons, which causes swelling, polymorphisms of collagen-encoding genes, COL1A1 and COL5A1, are strongly associated with increased risk of the condition.

Hyperandrogenism—Is DSD an unfair advantage to female athletes?

Foekje Dilemma, a prominent Dutch track athlete, made a national record for covering 200m within 24.1 seconds in a tournament in London in 1950. But her success was snatched away from her due to a gender test that she underwent. The records of her victory were erased permanently from the pages of history.

Though she was a female phenotype, designated female at birth, and brought up as a woman, her DNA analysis revealed that she had a ‘Y’ chromosome, which triggers male development.

She was most probably a “genetic mosaic,” meaning that her cells had either 46XX or 46XY chromosomes in approximately 1:1 ratio, at least in her skin. This condition is a Disorder of Sex Development (DSD). In the gonads of a genetic mosaic, the tissue ratio of XX: XY will cause the gonads to become either ovary or testes, or both.

Even at present, hyperandrogenism or higher testosterone levels in a female athlete give her some unfair advantage over her other female competitors, though there is still no concrete evidence.

Recent tests have shown that most female athletes had higher testosterone due to DSD also has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). AIS is a condition causing high testosterone levels at a non-functioning level.

Though, in 1996, a gender verification report from Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta showed that out of 3387 female athletes, eight, who were XY-DSD female, had a mean height of 175 cm, which is close to an XY-Male height range.

Final Thoughts

An athlete may be genetically gifted to be a high performer, but it is only through the dedication and specialized training that he would be able to succeed. Though successes at sporting events are associated with “good” genes, these associations are not strong enough to be predictive.

Most parents want their children to be all they can. Let’s say you want your child to become a professional basketball player, so you have them tested. Their DNA test report may reveal a propensity for a high performing athlete. As a parent, you believe that means your child is an athlete.

But in reality, he does not want to play Basketball. So you see to train him as an athlete when his heart is not in it will lead to further problems such as health issues or he may abandon the sport altogether.

Overall, the future of genetic studies in relevance to athletic performance is promising. But can you predict athletic performance with genetics? Yes, you can with DNA results, but is it the only part of an athlete.

For a person to be a high performing athlete, they have to want to work for it. DNA tells the genetic makeup of a person, but the person is the one who will make or break their performance.

Let’s say you are a sprinter by heart, and your DNA tells you that you are a weight training athlete. Does that mean you can no longer do what you love, sprinting? NO, IT DOES NOT! You worked hard to become the athlete you are. The results can enhance what you have worked hard to accomplish. You can train differently but still achieve your heart’s desire.

A DNA test for athletic performance is a must for all athletes. Get to know you from the inside out. Your trainer will know what to do next and how you can improve to take that gold medal or build that 6-pack your dreams.

It’s just a simple DNA cheek swab to obtain your saliva DNA test. You will receive a DNA test kit in the mail from DNA is the Way with your purchase along with a DNA test video created by DNA is the Way to ensure proper collection of your sample.

You don’t even have to know how to read a DNA test report because, in about three weeks, a member of DNA is the Way will contact you to go over the report with you. We will provide suggestions based on your body’s unique needs.

If you want your personal trainer to have a copy of your report, we can have you sign a release of information required by HIPPA laws, and your trainer will then have all the necessary information to help you perform so much better.

The whole process is simple.

What are your thoughts on DNA? Can you predict athletic performance with genetics? I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please leave your questions and comments in the comment section below.

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