We are seeing a number of interesting fitness and health trends emerging in 2017 – social fitness classes, insect protein powders, vitamin enriched teas, super-mushrooms, and functional fitness workouts, just to mention a few. My prediction is that we will also start seeing the end of the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach in fitness and diet plans, and the rise of more personalised solutions over the next few years.
I am talking about solutions which are tailored to your unique genetic makeup – or your DNA profile, in other words. The recent explosion in genetic science has revealed new connections between our genes and our exercise trainability. According to a study published in the journal Biology of Sport in April 2016, our genes may dictate whether we respond better to power- or endurance-style training. Therefore, a DNA test could potentially reveal more about how you respond to training, enabling you to optimise your training and diet for your body. This, in turn, could help you reach your goals quicker. No wonder that many famous athletes, including Tom Lancashire, Craig Pickering and Greg Rutherford enthusiastically embraced DNA testing to improve their sports performance.
There are already a number of companies that capitalise on DNA-personalised services. For example, Habit uses their clients’ DNA to design optimised meal plans. Other companies such as FitnessGenes, AnabolicGenes and DNAFit also use genetic insights for individually tailored nutrition and fitness advice. Many large healthcare systems are using DNA information to create more effective cancer and heart disease treatments or medication.
I have to admit, I find this concept quite fascinating and I have always been a science geek. Therefore when DNAFit was offering a rather attractive Black Friday deal on their Fitness and Diet Premium Test package (which I had been eyeing up for quite some time), I leapt at the opportunity to find out what my DNA can reveal. Read on to hear about my findings and my conclusions!
What DNA testing IS and ISN’T
The first thing I wanted to clarify upfront is that the purpose of DNA testing for fitness and nutrition is not about telling you to change your goals, but more about helping you to improve the route to get where you want to be. So the result you get should not change your sporting or nutrition goals, but help you understand how you can leverage on your genetic pre-disposition to reach that particular goal.
Of course, your genes cannot change – you will always be you. However, you do have the power to change your lifestyle. So by identifying and analysing your unique genetic characteristics (your strengths and weaknesses), it becomes possible to tweak your training, diet and lifestyle to match your individual needs for success in your chosen exercise and sport.
What my DNA testing involved
Before you picture me lying on top of a metallic operating table in a brightly lit up lab, surrounded by a group of scientists poking at me in their white suits, let me tell you that it was nothing like that!
DNAFit simply sent me a testing kit in the post with some detailed instructions on what I needed to do. This involved taking a swab from inside my mouth first thing in the morning, and sending it off for analysis, along with a detailed health questionnaire I needed to complete. Their lab then tested a selection of key genes associated with diet, nutrition and weight management and health/ fitness.
Ta-daaa – no poking, and no scary looking scientists!
Some interesting findings from my DNA test
A few weeks after sending off my DNA in a giffy envelope for analysis, DNAFit emailed me the download link to my results online. I have to say that going through my Fitness and Diet reports were not a light bedtime read to start with, however, the accompanying Infographic summary was really helpful in illustrating the key findings from both reports.
Here are a selection of interesting facts I have found out about myself:-
– I am genetically wired to respond much better to power type workouts (64%) such as weight lifting, sprinting, than endurance type ones such as long distance running (36%). – As a keen runner, this is not exactly what I had hoped to hear. Maybe time to try power lifting and sprinting? On a more serious note, I can see now what kind of training will I get more benefits from in order to improve my running, such as functional cross-training and weight-training, instead of just running more.
– Apparently, I am super-sensitive to carbs, so my optimal diet type for weight management is a low carb diet plan. – My recurring struggles with sugar addiction are clear proof for this. Carbs are important macronutrients, though. The key things is to consume complex carbs from natural, raw food, rather than Ferrero Rocher and chocolate coated Brazil nuts.
– Sadly, my ability to detoxify i.e. get rid of harmful chemicals in my diet via my liver, is reduced. In fact, the report warns me that I’m at high risk of DNA damage from smoked and chargrilled meats. – Therefore I need to prioritise antioxidants in my diet. I can safely say that having about 3 BBQs on average in a year and being on a mainly plant based diet is probably not going to cause too many problems!
– It turns out that I am lactose intolerant. – This was a bit of a surprise, so I did some research and learnt that most of the world’s population are lactose intolerant! However, it seems that the levels of intolerance can vary, and I feel fine as long as I do not consume dairy in excess.
– I have an ‘intermediate ability’ to recover from workouts, due to slower free radical clearance. In addition, unfortunately, I am genetically predisposed to a higher than average risk of a sports related soft tissue injury. – I suspected this might be the case, based on my sports injury history. This highlights the importance of putting a lot of focus not only on cross-training, but also on prehab/maintenance work (such as foam rolling, stretching and flexibility work, running specific strengthening routine) to minimize my chances of injury. I will also need to be more strategic with my nutrition to recover better after more demanding workout sessions.
What I have found DNA testing useful for
On the whole, there were a few surprises and a few not so surprising findings in my reports. One thing is certain: getting an insight into my genetic make-up has helped me reinforce some lessons I’ve learnt through many years of training and listening to my body about how best to train and how to eat.
Even though I am not genetically predisposed to be a running champion, it does not mean that I cannot be a successful runner. The test has definitely helped me see what kind of training I am more likely to see results from. In addition, by adopting healthy lifestyle practices, I do have the ability to improve on my natural traits for running.
Being better aware of my genetic strengths, I can leverage on these to neutralise the effects of my weaknesses, such as my proneness to injury. Even though I can’t change the cards I have been dealt with by nature, I can certainly play these cards smartly to give myself the best chance to achieve my fitness and sports goals.
Are DNA fitness tests worth your money?
Even though I have found this experience really exciting and a real eye-opener in many ways, I feel that more studies need to be done to understand more about exercise and nutrition genetics.
Firstly, genetics determine between 20 and 70 per cent of the overall picture when it comes to your response to training – quite a wide margin, if you ask me!
Secondly, I am a bit sceptical about the authenticity of some of the studies into genetics. For example, it transpired that the previously mentioned study in the journal Biology of Sport was conducted by people who were employed by or affiliated with DNAFit. I always feel slightly uneasy about such connections, plus there was reportedly a high dropout rate from the study volunteers which may have skewed the results. One thing is certain: even though we need to take the findings of this study with a pinch of salt, it is no doubt one of the most interesting and provocative ones out there for starters.
Finally, I can’t help but think that by more mindfully observing my responses to certain types of training and dietary changes, I could have arrived at the same findings myself, without needing to carve out a penny for a genetic test. Of course, it may have taken me much more time and ‘trial and error’ to establish what really works for me.
So my conclusion for the time being is to ‘watch this space’ until we have more convincing studies about DNA testing for fitness and nutrition. The way I see it, far from being a fad, it definitely has the potential to be the next ‘game changer’. If you are looking for the extra edge in your chosen sport and would like to achieve better results in competitions, a DNA test could point you into the right direction and confirm some answers. If, however, your goal is to get generally fit and healthy, rather than qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, I would probably hold off. You can probably find better ways to spend that £200 which is the average cost of a DNA test. As always, my advice would be to listen to your body; change things up in your training if you are not seeing results – then observe and evaluate what works for you; last, but not least, you certainly can’t go wrong following good old common-sense NHS advice about what a healthy and balanced diet should look like.
Would you consider DNA testing? Why/why not? Let me know in the comments!