BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — There are many factors that determine an athlete’s potential. Things like attitude, training, nutrition and commitment all play a role. Another factor that can shape an athlete’s potential is genetics and a simple DNA test can be the key to unlock the information needed to optimize performance.
Dr. Grant Bitter, the founder of Genomic Express in West Lake Village, California, has 30 years of experience in the biotechnology industry and explains how genetic studies in elite athletes have demonstrated that certain ACTN3 genotypes are associated with either superior power or superior endurance ability. Through a DNA test, you will know whether your genetics give you an advantage in power or endurance, which allows you to optimize your approach to athletic training.
“Each individual has two particular genes, one from their mother and one from their father,” explains Bitter. “There are genetic variants in these genes that effect athletic performance.”
There are three possible genotypes: the R/R which gives an individual the power or sprint advantage, the X/X, which gives an individual the endurance advantage and the R/X, which contributes to power and endurance.
As an example, Bitter uses swimming and track in which events are classified as sprint, mid-distance, and long-distance.
“An individual with the R/R genotype would have an advantage in sprints,” says Bitter. “Individuals with the X/X genotype, of which might be 20 percent of the group, their muscle fibers would give them an advantage in endurance. People with the R/X genotype would probably place them in the middle, and if you were looking at that in terms of event selection, maybe it would be mid-distance.”
However, the information provided by the ACTN3 genetic test can be applied to all sports. Examples include:
- An athlete with the power advantage may excel in sports such as baseball, gymnastics, and weightlifting.
- An athlete with the endurance advantage may excel in sports such as cross-country running and cycling.
- An athlete with the power and endurance advantage may excel in sports such as soccer, basketball, and lacrosse.
The test is ordered online at www.genomicexpress.com. A collection kit will be mailed to the specified address and will include two cotton swabs along with instructions and a postage-paid envelope to be returned to the CLIA-certified laboratory. Within 3-5 days of receipt, the test result will be posted to the online account that was created with the initial order.
“Now we are at the point after the human genome project that we are able to do this testing very quickly through a 3-5 day turnaround in our lab and very reasonably priced,” says Bitter.
The test costs $99.
“The tests are less than a pair of good running shoes. You do the test once and you have the result for life.”
As a former Division 1 gymnast, I wanted to test myself and see if my genotype lined up with my strengths and weaknesses. Click here to see my test results.
“You are essentially using information, objective tests, and customize your training that way rather than by trial and error which is usually how it is done now,” says Bitter.
One doctor in Alabama has a different take on how valuable this information can be.
“Science is not very rigorously tested,” says D1 Sports Medicine Doctor Geoffrey Connor. “Training in sports is so multifactoral. Your diet, your training regimen, your parents’ genetics. There are just so many things that come into play to determine how good you are at that sport long term, that at this point knowing what the genetic testing shows is not all that helpful in that way. Could it be? Maybe. But we don’t have that science yet.”
However, Bitter reiterates that these tests are often misunderstood and that they don’t predict whether you are an elite athlete or not, it merely gives you more information.
“There are just so many things involved in athletic performance,” explains Bitter. “Probably the most important thing is attitude. Approach and how conscience you are about training and how serious you are about competing and diet and nutrition. This is just one component that is involved. It doesn’t mean you can’t play a particular sport or position. It doesn’t mean you have to play something else. It’s just additional information.”
After the special aired we sat down with a panel of local coaches and former athletes who shared their thoughts on our findings on the genetics of sports performance: