On a genetic level, many elite athletes tend to share certain almost superhuman genes. But even if you aren’t an Olympian, you can nudge your athletic genes in the right direction—if you know how to do it.
We’re going to be talking about exercising for your genes here, diving into what genes are linked to greater athletic performance and how you can get them working for you.
Decoding Your Genes
So here’s the thing: your genetics play a more prominent role in determining your athletic prowess than you may realize. According to Dan Reardon, M.B.Ch.B. Co-founder of FitnessGenes and personal trainer: “When it comes to athletic and physical performance, genetics can be attributed to about 50-60% of the difference between your skills and someone else’s. The other 40-50% comes down to environmental factors like training, diet, and lifestyle habits (i.e. sleep).”
So if that’s the case, how do you come by this information? Sadly, a simple blood work panel from your doc won’t cut it; you’ll need to find a company that specializes in nutritional genetics testing—this means you’ll be paying out of pocket for it (around $300).
Which begs the question: is it worth getting the test?
It’s our goal to help you answer that by the end of this blog. Keep reading.
Exercising for Your Genes
Here are some of the most common genes associated with athletic performance, along with the fixes to improve their function without having to turn to genetic doping.
The “Non-Gene” Fitness Benchmark: VO2maxAlthough this is not a gene, all athletes have one commonality: they all have high levels of VO2max. This is your body’s maximum intake of oxygen during exercise. The average fitness VO2max level for women is 30-35mL/kg/min while for men it’s 40-45mL/kg/min.
For elite athletes, on the other hand, it’s 70-80mL/kg/min. The more oxygen you take in, the greater your energy output; this means you’ll be better equipped to handle intense cardio, HIIT and other rigorous exercise.
- The Fix: Up your VO2max levels by—you guessed it—training. Improve your fitness level by increasing your endurance and your VO2max will go up. Why not start with some yoga over at BodyRock+ to help encourage you to breathe better in between more intensive workouts?
The “Obesity” Gene: FTO
It’s no joke, there is a gene that makes some people more susceptible to obesity. In a 2008 Scottish study of school-aged children, it revealed the heaviest set kids had active FTO genes.
Further, using the same children they conducted a metabolic test (tracked their diet) and uncovered that an active FTO gene doesn’t mean a slow metabolism, it actually means they just ate more.
- The Fix: Portion control and eating foods to satiate you, like complex carbs and quality protein. Once you curb your caloric intake, get involved in HIIT to torch fat. This will help you stoke your metabolic fire more than running on a treadmill (steady-state cardio).
The “Adrenaline” Gene: ADRB2
This nifty little gene affects how you digest carbs and fats and how well your body responds to exercise: both air intake (VO2max) and its response to adrenaline.
In athletes, this gene is linked to greater VO2max and improved endurance; it’s the opposite in sedentary folks. Sadly those who scored lower in VO2max, also had greater carb sensitivity meaning they were at higher risk for obesity.
- The Fix: For sedentary people, you want to limit your carbs to slow release (complex carbs) and take baby steps towards improving your fitness level — increase your mobility and flexibility before tackling HIIT. Try our hit series Stretch and Mobility at BodyRock+ and get started today! Start your risk free trial here.
The “Fertilizer” Gene: BDNF
This gene is a literal lifegiver. It’s found all across your brain and serves a dual purpose to maintain and grow new brain cells—yeah, this bad boy is important. Low-BDNF is linked to brain degenerative disease like dementia and Alzehmers as well mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
However, new studies suggest if you stimulate the BDNF gene in a petri dish, out pops more brain cells. By waking up this gene you’ll boost your serotonin (cue happiness), combat mood disorders/brain degradation, improve your memory and help you form new skills.
- The Fix: The fix is so simple: EXERCISE! Don’t just stick to one branch on the exercise tree, try cardio, challenging new circuits but above all else get your recommended 30 minutes a day!
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The “Bulking Up” Tag-Team Genes: IGF-1 & MSTN
The IGF-1 gene is responsible for childhood growth and alongside MSTN triggers muscle growth in adults. In a recent study, lab rats were injected with IGF-1 and they gained 30% more muscle!
- The Fix: If you’re putting in the hours working out but seeing negligible gains, try timing your pre and post workout meals better—while, still remembering to eat properly. This often means eating a half hour before and after your workout for greatest bulking results.
The “Speed” Gene: ACTN3
ACTN3 is found only in fast-twitch fibers, these fibers are responsible for powerful bursts of speed, deadlifts or other explosive movements.
- The Fix: If you struggle to perform explosive moves, give yourself a boost by limiting steady-state cardio and getting on a program of power training—which means it’s time to practice your jump squats on the BodyRock Plyobox!
Exercising for Your Genes
Since you’re reading this, we know you put a premium on your fitness level. But whether or not you want to front the money to get a blood test to check out your athletic genes depends on your curiosity and whether or not you’re happy with your current gains from your exercise routine.
Even without these tests, if you’re born with average genes, you can still jumpstart your underachieving genes to improve your overall fitness level with the tips shared here. So what if you weren't born a Schwarzenegger: that doesn’t mean you can’t have a killer physique. If you’re ready to start exercising for your genes, there’s no time like the present to get started!
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