DNAFit, Viewpoint

The genetics of ‘performance’ are we ‘born or made’?

I am an avid reader of sports related literature, be it autobiographies, sporting history of great champions or research and analysis of why some are so successful.

I myself got into serious competitive cycling following reading Chris Boardman’s first autobiography, in which one line has always stuck out.  His view was that to succeed in Cycling it was , “98% hard work…”  Now I knew i didn’t have much ‘talent’ (*we will explore that later!) in other coordination sports, I wasn’t bad, but in no way stand out.  Although what I know i did have was an insatiable ability to work hard and train.  Johnny Wilkinson was always quoted as saying he was training, kicking balls, on Christmas day as ‘his competition would be’.  The reality is no days they probably are !  That statement though demonstrated the dedication required to succeed.

I personally have taken that ‘dedication’ as my mantra and have tried to ‘out work’ and out train to ensure I could do well.  I’ve done okay,  but in no way am I a ‘great champion’ in the ilk of a Greg Lemond, Miguel Indurain or other.

Why is that?

I always put it down to 3 things:

  1. I was never focused enough,  My diet strayed too often,
  2. I was not SMART enough in my goals – single mindedly targeting my best area of success early on
  3. I hadnt accumulated the much vaunted ’10k hours’ of true champions.

This last point comes from some research that was actually done on Violinists and then extrapolated to sports, with people such as Tiger Woods, Lewis Hamilton, Jensen Button , the William’s sisters etc etc being held up as ‘proof’ that it was all in the practice, hours put in and work rate of these elite athletes was the ‘secret’ to their success.

This is something Matthew Syed (former GB table tennis player) and now successful author much supports in 2 of his books.  Books I thoroughly enjoyed and did too ‘buy into’.  Effectively the ‘environmental’ factors contribute much more to success than any innate genetic or other predisposition.  One he uses with the example of himself, where he came from in Reading and the associated Table Tennis club, produced more of the GB’s top layers than by sheer math said they should!

But, is it really that simple?  If so why do Ethiopa & Kenya and the celebrated Rift Valley produce a massively disproportionate number of elite distance runners?  Why are the tiny islands (relatively) of Jamaica and Bermuda so good at producing Sprinters?

Recently whilst reading ‘The Sports Gene’ by David Esptein, it became clear to me there are indeed genetic factors at play.  Much research was done on athletes in both of the above locations, as well as many others.

Jamiacan sprinters are in virtually all cases descended from a relatively small genetic line, that can be dated back hundreds of years, and all, bar none share significant genetic traits (genotypes) that apparently predispose them to being ‘fast’.  the same is True of the Ethipoians and Kenyans, who have over thousands of years developed slightly longer legs to body ratio, but also very slender calfs that massively improves running economy.

Coming back to the sports of my choosing, we look at Greg Lemond who was often vaunted of having the highest VO2 max of any tested athlete,  a proportion (large) of this is genetically linked.  We all know certain diseases are genetically linked, so of course our predisposition to success in other areas is.  Even our innate ‘drive’ is driven by our Genes.  Within David Epstein’s book he cites a study done on mice, whereby they identified ‘runners’ and ‘non runners’ (*Mice habitually like to explore at night).  The high runners – those with it seemed inbuilt ‘drive’ to run more were bred, as were thsoe with lower ‘drive’ the slow runners.  In just a few generations the ‘runners’ were running 7x more than the non runners!

So what does it all mean?

My ‘take’ on all this is relatively simple:

  1. Each of us has a unique genotype that could predispose us to be better / worse at certain athletic (and other) endeavours.
  2. Understanding this and how to utilise what it tells us COULD help us maximise what we get out of our sporting pursuits
  3. There is STILL no substitute for hard work!

All of the above was why i trained to become a DNAFit expert (www,dnafit.com).  I was interested in seeing what my own, and my athletes genetic make up said about us, but importantly HOW to maiximse our potential through ‘SMART’ training, recovery and nutrition.

Below is my own ‘Genetic results’

infographic jpg

There is a raft of other information provided via the testing procedure, and work with your DNAFit expert (me!) to understand how to apply it.

For example, my genotype indicates that I have a slight balance of Endurance to Power genes.  So what does this mean – Firstly it DOES not mean necessarily I will be ‘better’ at endurance (although that is my chosen area!)  It means that to maximise my potential results I should focus on 60% ENDURANCE based training and 40% POWER based (intervals over FTP in the cycling / Triathlon world).  SO if i was to do 5 training sessions a week, I should do 3 Endurance and 2 interval sessions.  Also I should space them well as my recover form hard sessions is less good than others

The diet ‘type’ info is massively insightful with some excellent provision of recipes and supporting information .

The applicability is wide, be it in Sport or even in every day life.  Its NOT an ‘answer’ its one of many pieces in the complex jigsaw puzzle of marginal gains to maximise success.


Interested in learning more about DNAFit or how to apply it within your training regime drop me a line





Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.