DNA Testing for Your Fitness Level: The Next Health Craze?
In our fitness obsessed world, you don’t need to be a professional athlete to want to latch on to any opportunity to — safely and effectively — optimize your athletic performance. Now a DNA testing company, FitnessGenes, is leading one of the ways to do just that. Recently relaunched, FitnessGenes is now focused on helping everyday people maximize their fitness and nutrition profile, versus in their prior iterations which was focused on bodybuilders and pro athletes. With mega medical player Quest Diagnostics also poised to get into the game with Blueprint for Athletes, it appears that eating and exercising based on your DNA may very well be the next fitness craze.
Here’s how it works: FitnessGenes sends you a DNA Performance Kit ($199); just spit in the included plastic tube and ship your saliva sample back. In about three weeks, your genetic results will be ready for you to see by logging into their web portal.
To find out more about accuracy and potential, we spoke with FitnessGenes co-founder Dr. Dan Reardon.
The Cheat Sheet: What kind of information do you generate from the saliva analysis?
Dr. Dan Reardon: Once we receive the saliva sample to our laboratory, we extract a sample of DNA from cheek cells that are found in the saliva. These cells are stabilized in a special buffer enclosed in the kit, so the sample reaches us in excellent condition no matter how long it spends in transit. The saliva sample is analyzed for 43 different genetic variations linked to physical performance or nutrition.
CS: How accurate is the testing?
DR: We perform the testing in duplicates to ensure confidence in results. Results are also scrutinized by human eye at the end of the process.
CS: You went from working mostly with bodybuilders and pro athletes to testing anybody who is interested – How can the testing benefit people in various stages of athletic ability?
DR: To truly understand how to build muscle and burn body fat, you have to work with and understand the absolute extremes, meaning bodybuilders and pro athletes. Over the years, and as we have begun to understand the relationship between genetics, physical performance and body composition much more, we have built computational models that can now be applied to everyone. We have recently launched the Starter System which is a workout plan based on DNA results, for beginners. We’ve had tremendous early success with this.
CS: What do you say to people who doubt the test accuracy or who think that some of the results might be “obvious”? (i.e. aren’t most athletes already aware of how their metabolism works or if they can easily put on muscle mass…)
DR: We’ve worked with many professional athletes and competitive physique competitors. Within this cohort, not once have we ever faced anything like this. The reason is that when it’s your profession, you’re looking for every percentage improvement you can find. And whilst professionals might well have 95% of their regimen completely nailed, if there is 5% improvement that can be found, they’ll take it.
With the general population, I’d say that most require anything from a 50-95% improvement in their workout and diet regimens, so FitnessGenes is extremely significant for this group of people. Check out this video of Steve Kuclo using his gene results to alter his leg training leading into the Arnold Brazil 2014, which he won.
SC: How can genetics help maximize muscle gain, weight loss, and/or strength
DR: Genes produce proteins. Variations in genes mean that protein can be made different, or not made at all. For example, the ACTN3 gene produces a protein called alpha actinin. If you have 2 copies of the mutated variant, you don’t then produce any alpha actinin. This protein has a function, so if you don’t produce it, you can’t then carry out that function.
So by understanding gene variations, and knowing functions that your body can and can’t carry out, or carries out at a lesser rate, you can start to understand bigger physiological outcomes like response to exercise and nutrition. And this is how the application of environmental factors such as exercise and nutrition, can have a significant effect on the above when you know your genetics data. This is what FitnessGenes are world experts in.
SC: You mention that the aim is to show people how they you should exercise and eat based on their DNA. How much of physical performance is genetics and how much is practice/environment?
DR: Approximately 50-60% of the variation between people and their physical performance is genetic. So 40-50% is as a result of the environment.
SC: Can you tell us how you tailor your various diet and exercise plans to genetic results? How much variation is there in the actual results?
DR: Let’s use an example of a nutritional recommendation: The FTO gene regulates appetite and is linked to obesity. If you have the mutated copy, you will suffer from hunger a lot more. So for this cohort of people we might make the following recommendations, and certainly use this as a platform for building nutritional plans.
- To avoid snacking on the wrong foods, consume frequent low calorie meals.
- Reduce your fat intake, and the overall number of calories per meal, which will reduce the likelihood of eating too much.
- Look at strategies to combat hunger symptoms such as drinking ice-cold water, or mixing glutamine in water.