Elite vs. Non-Elite Athlete: The Actn3 Gene And You?

Athletes are constantly looking for new ways to optimize their performance. Even if you aren’t pursuing a serious career in sports, new approaches to optimizing your body’s performance are emerging. We have seen a rise in the research determining how your DNA is connected to your overall athletic ability. Actually, one of the specific genes is the ACTN3 gene. We will devote this article to understanding this gene and how it can help you.

Understanding your genetic influence on athletic performance is imperative to improvement. Your genetic makeup is directly associated with your potential for becoming an elite or non-elite athlete. The ACTN3 gene is key to making this distinction. ACTN3 is most commonly referred to as “a gene for speed,” but research reveals its influence on athletic performance is much deeper.

Let’s talk about some information most important to understanding the ACTN3 gene and how it’s connected to optimal athletic performance.

What is the ACTN3 Gene?

The ACTN3 gene is closely analyzed because it is associated with our body’s endurance and speed capacity. ACTN3’s has a growing popularity among various athletes, trainers, coaches, and health-focused individuals. Their increased interest is attributed to the ACTN3 gene’s influence on our capacity for power and strength-related performance.

ACTN3 is a gene responsible for producing alpha-actinin-3. Alpha-actinin-3 is a protein only expressed in type 2 muscle fibers. Let’s learn a bit more about the role of muscle fibers in the ACTN3 gene.

ACTN3 3 types of muscles

What do muscle fibers have to do with it?

Muscle fibers are found in your muscle tissue. They consist of a single muscle cell and help control your body’s movement when grouped.

There are 3 types of muscle fibers: skeletal, smooth, and cardiac. ACTN3 is found in your skeletal muscle fibers. Tendons are responsible for successfully attaching your skeletal muscles to your skeleton. These muscles allow you to perform voluntary movements like walking, running, bending over, picking up an object, or reaching for a pen.

There are two types of skeletal muscle fibers: type 1 and type 2.

Oxygen is required to generate energy for movement when it comes to type 1 fibers. They’re full of energy-generating organelles called mitochondria, and a high number of mitochondria makes these fibers dark in color.

Type 2 muscle fibers have 2 subtypes: Type 2A and type 2B.

Type 2A fibers also use oxygen to generate energy for movement, but they don’t have nearly as many mitochondria, making them light in color.

Type 2B fibers are the complete opposite, using no oxygen to generate energy for movement. These fibers hoard energy and then use it specifically for short, powerful bursts of movement. They have the least number of mitochondria, making them nearly white in color.

Studies show that elite athletes possess type 2 muscle fibers, specifically type 2B muscle fibers.

represent fast twitch muscle

What is the role of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers in ACTN3?

Fast twitch and slow twitch refer to how fast your muscles contract. How fast your muscles act on ATP, a molecule that releases energy when it’s broken down, determine your muscle contraction speed. Fast twitch muscle fibers break down ATP 2x faster than slow twitch fibers.

The ACTN3 gene is only present in fast-twitch muscle fibers. Your fast twitch skeletal muscle fibers are types 2A and 2B, leaving type 1 as your slow twitch skeletal muscle fiber.

Each of us has fast twitch and slow twitch skeletal muscle fibers, but the amounts of each vary by each individual.

Connecting athletic performance, muscle fibers, and ACTN3

As stated above, ACTN3 is known for its positive influence on optimizing speed, endurance, power, and strength-related performance. The more alpha-actinin-3 you have, the better your athletic performance, but ACTN3 is only in type 2 skeletal muscle fibers or fast twitch muscle fibers.

So, it can be key to thoroughly analyze your own skeletal muscle fibers and determine the influence your ACTN3 gene has on your athletic ability.  

Type 1 and Type 2A muscle fibers use oxygen to produce energy and therefore don’t get tired as fast. Your type 2B fiber carries the lowest potential for endurance. Your type 1 fiber has the highest potential for endurance.

If you carry a high percentage of type 1 skeletal muscle fiber, you’re probably a good match for activities that require endurance, such as yoga, long-distance running, cycling, and swimming.

If you carry a high percentage of type 2A or 2B skeletal muscle fibers, you’re probably a good fit for activities that involve bursts of energy or strength like sprinting, weightlifting, football, basketball, and tennis.

word polymorphism

Additional Information about ACTN3

A common polymorphism or specific area in the ACTN3 gene is R5777X, where a C-to-T base substitution results in the transformation of an arginine base (R) to a premature stop codon (X).

X allele homozygotes do not possess the alpha-actinin-3 protein and are associated with a lower percentage of fast twitch fibers.

Individuals without R577X have the R/R genotype for ACTN3. Those that do have it either possess an R/X genotype (arginine base/premature stop codon) or an X/X genotype (premature stop codon). The ACTN3 X gene does not produce the alpha-actinin-3 protein, so an R/R or R/X genotype for ACTN3 is ideal for becoming an elite athlete.

Why is Understanding ACTN3 important?

ACTN3 can help determine your potential for becoming an elite athlete. Knowing how it responds to endurance, speed, power, and strength-related performance can help you determine the most effective training and diet regimens.

ACTN3 is generally referred to as a “gene for speed,” but emerging research suggests it also significantly impacts exercise recovery, injury risk, and training adaptation.

A person’s ACTN3 genotype absolutely affects their athletic performance and ability. So, it may be beneficial to participate in DNA testing designed for gaging athletic performance that includes a close analysis of this specific gene related to power and endurance potential.

Our GX Perform testing kit builds a report that will help you better understand the factors that can affect how your body works to get the most from your exercise and training efforts. We analyze genes related to 4 major categories: Mental & Physical Foundation, Training Response, Fuel Utilization, and Risk & Recovery for Injury.

In the Mental & Physical Foundation category, we test genes related to your high endurance and power potential, specifically the ACTN3 gene. We provide information on what your ACTN3 gene says about endurance and power, give you a rating based on your genotype, and provide success strategies to optimize performance based on your results.

Genetic testing is the best route to thoroughly understanding your individual ACTN3 gene and its effects on your athletic performance.

Key Takeaways

ACTN3 gene pin

Athleticism is individualized. How well you perform as an athlete is dependent on your genetic makeup, your training regimen, and your nutrition.

Understanding genetic influence on sports performance can help determine your potential for becoming an elite vs. a non-elite athlete.

If you’re ready to see what your DNA says about your ability to perform athletically at a high level, check out our GX Perform testing kit today.

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