Understanding Your Fitness Genetics – By Dr. Stuart Grice

Dr. Stuart Grice rowing at Oxford University

We all want to perform at the peak of our physical ability. Yet for each of us there is a limit to our capacity to perform a particular physical exercise. These limits are set by two main factors: our ENVIRONMENT and our GENETICS.

Nuture: how our ENVIRONMENT shapes us

There is no doubt that physical performance is influenced by a wide range of environmental factors. Bespoke training programmes, top-of-the-range equipment and personalised nutritional advice (amongst others) can all make important contributions leading to an overall increase in our physical fitness. However ,there is a critical factor underlying all of this, which may ultimately prove to be the most important of all: your GENETICS.

Nature: how our GENETICS shapes us

Geneticists have estimated that around 50% of the variation we see in physical fitness between individuals is due to genetics.

Dr. Stuart Grice and Mark Gilbert presenting at BodyPower, UK

Are you working to your ‘genetic potential’?

As you will appreciate, of course, fitness is an inherently complex characteristic involving multiple biochemical and physiological systems. There is (sadly) no ‘one-size-fits-all’ fitness gene. Instead, researchers have identified sets of genes that, when taken together, have a cumulative effect.

At FitnessGenes™ we have scoured the scientific literature for all the relevant data and identified a number of key genes that appear to have the greatest impact in terms of physical fitness. It is these genes that we analyse and use to build your fitness and nutrition recommendations.

This is not a static process. We will continue to monitor the latest studies and bring you all the relevant updates as they are published! At FitnessGenes™ we deal with real science, so you’re going to need a grounding in the basics of genetics, and we’re here to help you through it.

What is Genetics?

Genetics is the study of heredity: the passing of certain traits from parent to child through our genetic material. Much of the current genetic research into physical fitness is concentrated on identifying the specific regions in our genetic material that are responsible for the inheritance of certain traits, such as how our bodies respond to training and nutrition. These are the traits that FitnessGenes™ is focused on.

DNA: the molecular basis of inheritance

Deoxyribonucleic acid, more commonly known as DNA, is the molecule that is responsible for carrying all our genetic information. Your DNA code operates almost like a recipe book; it contains all the instructions your body needs for your development and function. Almost every cell in your body contains a complete copy of this DNA code. This complete copy, encompassing all of your genetic material, is sometimes referred to as your genome. It is handily packaged into 23 separate pairs of chromosomes.

DNA is made up of lots of tiny building blocks called nucleotides or ‘bases’ strung together in a row. There are actually only four types of nucleotides, commonly denoted by the letters A, C, G and T. Every DNA molecule is made up of two of these strands of nucleotides, which wrap around one another to form the double-helix structure that we are so familiar with. We all have a completely unique DNA code made up of just these four bases.

It’s all in the genes

If our DNA is the recipe book, then our genes are the actual recipes: a recipe for making a protein. A gene is a specific, discrete stretch of DNA that instructs our cells on how to make a particular protein. It is these proteins that perform the important biological tasks in our cells. The DNA code or sequence of the gene determines what the protein product will be.

Interpreting your DNA code

A gene is ‘read’ as a series of three adjacent bases. A particular three-base sequence, ATG, is recognised as the start of the gene, and another, usually TGA, is recognised as the end of the gene. Each three-base set represents a different amino acid. Amino acids are simply the building blocks of proteins; by combining lots of amino acids a protein can be built from the DNA sequence.

Mutation is what makes us all different

Due to the way that DNA is read, a simple change of just one base in the DNA sequence of a gene can lead to a change in the corresponding amino acid sequence, and this can ultimately result in a change to the protein product.

A single base change in your DNA code is known as a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP (pronounced “snip”). The different variations of a single base are known as alleles. Sometimes multiple bases, or even whole regions of DNA will be lost or gained, and these changes are termed indels (short for insertion-deletion).

It is these small changes that make each of us unique and mean that each of us will respond to fitness training and diet in different ways.

At the cutting edge

We must always remember that the way our genes and environment interact to produce a specific trait can be complicated, and may be influenced by multiple genes working together or even external modifications to the genetic material that do not change the DNA sequence at all. We are only just beginning to understand the full significance of our genes and the extent to which they influence our bodies.

At FitnessGenes™ we are very excited about the potential impact of this new science!

Do you want to know more?

If you’re new to genetics, this might be a lot to take in at once. However, at FitnessGenes™ we believe that nurturing an understanding and awareness of genetics will help you get the most out of your results, and we aim to ease you through this process with clear explanations of the research as we go along, and non-technical language where appropriate. We want to enable you to reach further towards your physical potential through awareness of your own genetic makeup.

Check out this phenomenal video interview with Ron Partlow and FitnessGenes™ CEO Dr. Dan Reardon and Research Director Mark Gilbert.

Written by Dr. Stuart Grice

Saturday, July 12, 2014