Did you know DNA influences your athletic ability?
Ready, Set, GENES – Playing sports based on your genes
Hockey, soccer, basketball, golf and track and field – the possibilities are endless. Your active 8 year old wants to participate in all of them. But with all the equipment, gear, uniforms and fees, it can get very expensive, very fast. How would you make the decision on which sport(s) to embrace? Will it be purely based on affordability or based on your child’s athletic abilities? There is no knowing whether you are bringing up the next NHL/NBA super star, the future David Beckham, Usain Bolt or Tiger Woods. Perhaps it is time to hand over the decision to biology, specifically to genetics, to give you clues on the sport that best fits your child, based on their genes.
Sports genetics is a popular topic when it comes to elite athletes, regularly linking specific genes or genetic variants to athletic performance. Genetic variants are different versions of the same gene. For instance, there is the ACTN3 “sprinter” gene, found in the former 200 m and 400 m world record holder Michael Johnson. This gene encodes a component of fast-twitch muscle fibres – the muscle fibres that fire very quickly for sudden bursts of energy. Some people have a version of ACTN3 that enables them to produce significantly more fast-twitch muscle fibres, giving them a genetic edge in power sports. Indeed, many Olympic power athletes, like sprinters, weight lifters and speed skaters, have this version of the ACTN3 gene. On the other hand, a specific version of another gene – the ACE “performance” gene – provides an endurance advantage.
The influence of genetics on athletic performance is not limited to just elite athletes or specific sports. The ultimate goal of fitness genetics is to create a map of all the genetic differences that contribute to fitness, athletic performance, injury risk, pain tolerance, and even exercise motivation and tolerance. This map will not only give us clues about which sports we may excel at, but will also provide much more valuable information, like the type of exercise that might benefit our health the most, purely based on our genetics.