November 21, 2022
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Can Genetic Testing Identify Talent for Sports?

People are currently using sports DNA testing to help design nutrition and exercise plans that are most effective for their genetic makeup.
Tomohiro Takano

Can Genetic Testing Identify Talent for Sports?

Discovering a person’s ability to become an elite athlete through DNA testing sounds like the stuff of science fiction. However, not that long ago, the thought of learning about your ancestry from an at-home DNA test seemed impossible too. 

It is often said that DNA contains the building blocks of life. Your unique DNA carries the instructions that inform every aspect of your person. Not only does DNA determine your eye color and risk for certain diseases, but it may also partially determine your athletic ability. 

You don’t need to be an Olympic hopeful to benefit from genetic testing for sports performance. People are currently using sports DNA testing to help design nutrition and exercise plans that are most effective for their genetic makeup. Understanding more about how your body works can help you make focused lifestyle changes to support your physical health and help you reach personal fitness goals. 

What Is Athletic DNA Testing?

Athletic ability is a complex combination of genetics, environmental factors, and personal determination. Physical traits like muscle strength and grace may be genetic, but they can also be attained through hard work. 

Studies on the athletic performance of twins have found that up to 80% of the differences in each one’s athletic performance can be attributed to genetic factors.

The genes most associated with athletic performance are identified as ACE and ACTN3. ACE helps the body convert enzymes into proteins that influence skeletal muscle function, and ACTN3 influences the type of muscle fibers linked to strength and endurance. 

Numerous genes contribute to a person’s athletic ability, but ACE and ACTN3 are the two that have been most widely studied. Genetic testing for athletic performance should include results for both ACE and ACTN3. 

Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE)

ACE helps to regular electrolyte balance and blood pressure as well as influence muscle development. People with II/ID ACE genotypes are better suited to endurance training, which includes high repetitions of low weights. 

There’s a theory that people with the ACE D/D genotype may have a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscles — those responsible for power and speed. Intermediate fast-twitch muscle fibers are able to use both anaerobic and aerobic metabolism equally, allowing them to create more energy. These types respond best to power training with high weights and low repetitions.

The role of ACE in athletic performance is not completely understood. Variations in the ACE gene influence the fast-twitch muscle fibers differently. A variation known as the DD pattern is thought to cause the highest proportion of fast-twitch muscle givers and the fastest speeds. 

Alpha Actinin 3 (ACTN3)

ACTN3 is only present in fast-twitch muscles. ACTN3 is sometimes called the “sprinter” or “speed” gene. These nicknames identify the power of ACTN3 to help athletes increase their speed. CC ACTN3 and CT ACTN3 genotypes are more likely to benefit from power training, while TT ACTN3 types get the most benefit from endurance training.

Aerobic Capacity

Knowing which type of muscle you build naturally is a great asset for athletic training, but the body’s ability to use oxygen is just as important as building muscles. Genetic testing for sports performance can provide information about your VO2 max — the maximum amount of oxygen you are able to use during strenuous exercise. 

A better understanding of your aerobic capacity enables you to optimize training methods to improve endurance. The greater your endurance, the better and longer you can perform at peak energy output.

Injury Susceptibility and Recovery 

Certain genetic variants make you more prone to specific types of injuries. If you have a history of tendon or ligament injuries, it may not be a coincidence. It could be genetics. Identifying the genetic markers that influence your injury risk provides important training information. 

If you know you’re at a higher risk for a certain type of injury, you can incorporate conditioning exercises into your routine that help prevent injuries that could sideline your training or even your athletic career. 

Psychological Advantage

Gaining a psychological advantage over the competition probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when discussing genetic testing for sports performance. However, every athlete understands the importance of mindset in training and competing. 

Knowing you have a genetic advantage for building muscle or running fast could give you the psychological edge you need to boost your confidence and stay motivated. 

Which Genotype Are You?

Sports DNA testing is a specialized kind of genetic analysis that isn’t available everywhere. Genetic testing for sports performance won’t predict whether you or your child are destined to be a superior athlete. Long hours of training, dedication, and sacrifice are needed to reach your ultimate athletic potential. However, DNA testing could reveal information about your athletic potential. 

Genetic testing for sports performance works the same way as other DNA home-testing kits. You pay for the kit and testing services and send the company a sample of your DNA as directed. 

If you perform an at-home DNA test from MyHeritage, AncestryDNA, or a similar company, you can upload your raw DNA file with Genomelink for further analysis, including athletic DNA testing. You’ll learn in-depth information about all of your physical characteristics, including genetic potential for athletic ability.

What Factors Influence Athletic Performance?

You don’t have to do a DNA test to get a glimpse into your own genetic makeup. Take a look at your parents, grandparents, and siblings. Do they move with the grace of a gazelle and the speed of a cheetah, or are they slow but muscular? 

Physical strength and agility aren’t the only traits that make an athlete. Psychology also plays an important role in improving your athletic performance. People who are goal-oriented and naturally confident may have just as much of an advantage as those with superior muscle strength. 

If you know which athletics your family members excel at, you’ll have a head start in understanding your own capabilities. However, genetic factors aren’t the only consideration. 

Other elements that affect a person’s athletic performance include:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Training
  • Support
  • Mindset and desire
  • Access to training equipment and coaching
  • Stamina
  • Recovery ability
  • Cardiovascular capability
  • Environment

Personal interest is one of the most important factors in developing athletic ability. Some people who are considered genetically advantaged may have little or no interest in improving their athletic performance, while others who don’t have genetic markers for athleticism can work hard and become supreme athletes.

Things You Can Learn From Athletic DNA Testing

Genetics may give you a head start, but genes are only part of what helps an athlete succeed. However, understanding what biological gifts (or challenges) you may have inherited can help you improve your workouts and athletic performance. 

Sports DNA testing can tell you:

  • Your risk of injury
  • Food intolerances
  • Your capacity to burn fat
  • The best way to gain muscle mass
  • How to make the most of a cardio workout
  • How to stay motivated for workouts
  • Your protein and carbohydrate utilization
  • Natural potential for strength and endurance
  • The best methods for recovery and reducing inflammation

Health-related insight from DNA testing offers many advantages, whether you are interested in improving as an athlete or just want to improve your health and learn more about how your body functions.

Sports DNA analysis can’t predict whether you’re going to be a professional athlete, but it can identify your athletic strengths and weaknesses. You and your trainer can use that information to develop a highly effective training schedule and diet to help you make the most of whatever genetic gifts you have.

Is Sports DNA Analysis Accurate?

DNA testing has been well studied and found to be highly accurate. One great thing about athletic DNA testing is that you can see for yourself if the information is reliable by putting it to use. 

If you adapt your diet and workouts to align with your genotype and don’t see improvement in your athletic performance, it may be that the results were incorrect or that other factors are limiting your abilities. 

In general, there are two factors that can affect the accuracy of DNA tests: contamination of the sample and using an unaccredited laboratory to do the analysis. 

Samples can become contaminated if you don’t carefully follow the test kit instructions, if another person touches the sample, or if the sample touches another surface where DNA may be present. At-home DNA test kits are generally easy to use. Make sure that you follow all directions and collect your sample exactly as recommended. 

Not all DNA analysis labs are equal. Unaccredited labs may use outdated equipment or employ researchers who don’t have proper training. Choose only labs that are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and meet any other accreditations required by the state in which they operate. 

No testing method is always 100% accurate, and any process that involves humans can be faulty, but if you follow your DNA test instructions and use a reliable laboratory, your sports DNA test should be reliable. 

Are You Ready To Get Started?

If you’re ready to learn more about your athletic potential and improve your health with the help of genetic research, it’s easy to get started. 

Take an at-home DNA test, and contact Genomelink to learn how to upload your raw DNA data into our system. You may be surprised by what you learn and how a better understanding of your unique biology can help unleash the athlete within. Our DNA Fitness Report can help improve your fitness outcomes by equipping you with knowledge on aerobic training, resistance training and training for building muscle size.

Tomohiro Takano
Tomohiro Takano
Co-Founder and CEO