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Did you know DNA affects your muscle type?

Strength or Endurance? Let PPARA decide for you

Food, fashion and fitness all have fads because we find comfort in the sense of belonging. Even the best of us sometimes “follow the crowd” into the busiest restaurant on the street, or wear socks with sandals to ‘fit in’. However, this may be the year we break out of the mold in fitness. According to the latest trends, wearable technologies top off the charts, with science-based training close behind at #4. Rather than relying on the numbers on a scale, we now have the means to measure many parameters involved in fitness and health from steps, to sleep and heart rate. More importantly, we are truly interested in understanding the why and the how of fitness. Why a particular fitness regime may better suit some of us, but not others. And how our diet, metabolism and genes will affect the expected outcome. For those who want to take it a step further, there’s DNA fitness testing, which allows you to personalize your workouts to suit your genes. Genetic variation in the PPARA gene is one such gene that plays a major role in determining whether you are better suited for strength or endurance exercise.

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When it comes to exercise or going to the gym, our choices are usually based on what we enjoy. If we consistently stay active, our bodies start to adapt to our routines – our muscles change and we become more efficient at fuelling our muscles. If you are a hardcore sprinter or a weightlifter it is likely that you have more “fast-twitch” fibres in your skeletal muscle because they can generate powerful bursts of energy. If you prefer running marathons or cycling, you probably have more “slow-twitch” fibres that are meant for endurance. Fast-twitch muscles use sugars as their main source of energy. While slow-twitch muscles can also burn sugar, they prefer burning fat. Burning fat generates twice as much energy compared to sugar, and the more we train the better we become at consuming fats, which is extremely beneficial if you want to increase your endurance.

PPAR alpha, the protein encoded by the PPARA gene, controls the energy switch between sugars and fats. Endurance training turns on PPARA, producing higher protein levels in slow-twitch muscles. Not surprisingly, endurance athletes with more slow-twitch muscles have more PPAR alpha compared to people with normal activity levels and average muscle fibre distribution.

A genetic variation in the PPARA gene results in two common forms of the gene. Several studies have shown that individuals with the rs4253778 G allele produce more PPAR alpha, compared to those with the C allele. The G allele is associated with a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscles and is more common among elite endurance athletes. However, there’s no need to despair if you inherited the C allele of PPARA, because it makes you better suited for activities that require power or speed. The bottom line is, people with the G allele have more PPAR alpha and are better at utilizing fats as energy, which suits fitness regimes designed to boost stamina. In contrast, people with the C allele are better at adapting their bodies to generate fuel anaerobically (without oxygen), so they can excel in activities that require power.

No two people are genetically identical (aside from identical twins, triplets, etc.), which explains why our responses to a single fitness routine can vary quite a bit. Differences in a single gene like PPARA can explain why your friend swears by strength workouts for weight-loss, but you’ve never found it to be ineffective. If you really think about it, matching your fitness plan to your exact genetic makeup will not only save you money, but it will keep you from having to experience the bitter disappointment of a failed fitness routine ever again.

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