What do you have in common with pro athletes and their coaches?

Thursday, July 13, 2017. Author Martin Cheifetz

Train like a football player

Do you ever wonder what you have in common with professional athletes and their coaches?

Our CEO, Dr. Dan Reardon has consulted for numerous professional sports teams on personalized training and nutrition and discusses his findings in this insightful podcast with another celebrated expert in the field, Ron McKeefery

Ron McKeefery has twice been named Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year and was honored as a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. The Master Strength and Conditioning Coach certification is the highest honor that can be achieved as a strength and conditioning coach and Ron has coached over 80 players who have gone on to play in the National Football League, so he is clearly a guy who knows how to make a difference!

If you dont have time to enjoy the full 45-minute podcast, heres a few of the highlights:

Ron: Talk a little bit about the genes you investigate and how you selected them

Dan: Think of DNA as the recipe book, and your genes are the recipes. Genes produce proteins and the proteins have a certain specific effect.  One of the of the genes we look at is the ACT3N. When you have one variation it produces a protein called alpha-actinin and when you have the other variation you don't produce it.  We know alpha-actinin plays a role in anabolic signaling, that it affects fast twitch muscle signaling and recovery, and that it influences structural properties that gear someone for speed or endurance.

Our team of PhDs is advancing our scientific recommendations in some truly ground-breaking ways.  Our scientists not only evaluate peer-reviewed research from around the world, but also have academic collaborations with universities, so the analysis we produce from our proprietary genetic database enables a huge element of discovery.

We have a lot of information that no one in the world has ever seen before and we’re learning some amazing things, particularly around genetics and obesity. I’m very excited to say that we're contributing to the global knowledge base of science.

What have you found with the athletes that you've worked with specifically, what have you found to be some of the major common issues, whether it's genes, body types, etc?

I’ve consulted for numerous big teams and while there are some incredibly knowledgeable coaches, one of the biggest issues they have is stratifying individuals into certain ways of training. If a team is training or feeding everyone the same way, you're going to end up with some people doing great and others who don't do so well.  One of our biggest assignments is going to teams and specifically looking at players who are having trouble getting their body composition under control, so helping to increase their lean body mass.

For whatever reason, these athletes have not been able to drop body fat.  When you look at what they're doing, it's the same as everyone else on their team. 50% of the variation between people and their physical performance and fitness is genetic so if you don't understand that 50%, how can you define what the environmental 50% (the part you can control) should look like, e.g. how you should train and how you should eat?

Currently, the level of personalization is not good enough for professional teams, but when you come in with DNA testing and you work with the coaches and the nutritionists and can you really personalize player's programs, that's when you can make progress with individual players.

A good example of this is Major League Baseball.  These guys play back to back games or numerous consecutive nights across time zone changes, training during the day, playing games at night, managing injury, there is a lot to consider and you need to figure out how to optimize them. The fact is they're not all the same, they play different positions, have different circadian rhythms, so it's a real challenge for the coaches and they're all starting to realize that there's a significant requirement for personalization.

You said environment plays a significant role, whether it's the training program, the nutrition program or the psychology. What kind of basic recommendations would you make to strength and conditioning coaches based on the research you've done?

Assuming you have an individual in the gym environment and you know exactly how to structure their training program, and you know exactly what they need to be doing in their training with regards to volume, frequency, rest, recovery, tempo, how you periodize every season and every year....so even if you know all of those things we still need to remember that the hour they're in the gym, is only 1/24th of the day, so the question becomes, "what are you doing with the rest of the day?"  What’s your nutrition plan like?  Is it a diet that is high protein, high fat, low carbs; or high protein, low fat, high carbs, etc?

People will talk about fast and slow metabolisms, meal frequencies (lots of small meals vs 3 larger ones) there are so many ways nutrition varies and so many ways you can completely screw somebody up by getting their nutrition wrong that the take home message for coaches is always, "you can do everything right in the gym, but you have to do everything right out of the gym as well".  Nutrition, sleep, recovery…it all counts towards performance.  

We're in this world where everyone is obsessed with supplements.  There are certainly some supplements that are important but there's also a lot of supplements that aren't.  You'll find people who are so focussed on supplements and they must take these pills at these times and then their attention is perhaps diverted from what is more important:  good sleep, recovery, and just simple down-time pleasures like spending time with friends, going for a walk, reading a book and you have to get that balance right.

With genetic testing we can empower people to really understand what is going to work for their body:  when they need to eat, when they need to sleep, when they should drink coffee or when they should take other supplements, and the rest of the time they're not worried about whether or not they're doing the right thing.  There’s a huge relationship between what happens in the gym and what happens out of the gym, and we can help decipher it all.

Yeah, that's exactly what I tell my teams:  We have you for 2 hours per day, but you have 22 hours to mess up everything we just did.  I completely agree with you.  So what other recommendations are you making for players, coaches, and consumers in general?

We make specific recommendations on exercise....training volume and frequency, how many meals per day you should be eating, how those meals should be balanced in terms of macronutrient ratios, are you genetically lactose intolerant, what your coffee consumption should be like, folate consumption, salt sensitivity…we look at genes that help determine the best time to sleep, best time to wake up, when your cortisol levels are likely to be high or low, the best time of the day to exercise...there's a whole barrel of information that helps us create a structured daily plan custom made for each individual.

This has been great.  Every time that I do a podcast with individuals like you, who are perhaps not S&C coaches on day to day basis but who are impacting our profession in a positive way, I always learn so much and I know that everyone else is listening too and if your mind is going wild with all the possibilities.....As professionals, we think about how to improve our athletes and a lot of time it goes all the way back down to the cellular level and what you're doing there can have a huge impact, whether that's on their environment or the type of athlete you're dealing with, so thanks for coming on and sharing with us.

Hopefully, you'll see that you DO have a lot in common with pro-athletes: despite the support of their teams, their seemingly endless wealth, and the fact that they are trying their hardest to change their bodies, they can struggle with their weight and diet just like you!

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