Sport is health … and a bit of genetics

What factors limit human performancein sport? According to the majority of physiologists, the most importantfactors are: nutrition, motivation, environment and equipment (running shoes,bathing suits, skis, bikes) – allow for a radical improvement in sportsperformance.

After considering the environmental factors, many physiologistsseem to believe that sports limitations may be related to our genetics – inparticular to the genes regulating our cardiovascular endurance and the type ofmuscle fibers.

The shaping role of genetics

Genetics shapes us in many ways, including our potential for excellence in sport. Training, diet and other factors play a big role in the development of our potential, but on the other hand our genes may also limit performance. You may have the genetic potential of being a sports champion, but if you eat unhealthy food and you lack physical activity, you are unlikely to achieve this potential.

Having limited sports potential, a person determined to still engage in physical activity has a more difficult task than a person genetically endowed. The real dream of trainers is a person not only that endowed with specific genes, but also with the heart to sport. On the other hand, someone with limited genetic potential can find ways to compensate for genetic deficiencies and become a reliable athlete. It is easy to visualize by giving an example of Paralympics who despite different disabilities achieve results equal to fully functional people. The whole art depends on how much one and the other put in the work.

And what if you could test your genetic predisposition to sport?

Genetics have a big influence on endurance, muscle size and muscle fiber composition (fast or slow oscillation), anaerobic threshold (AT), lung capacity, flexibility and, to some extent, endurance. So how our muscles are built, how quickly we get tired and how much we can withstand during exercise is determined by our genetic code.

One of the main limitations for endurance athletes is the capacity of the heart or its ability to deliver enough oxygen (through the bloodstream) to working skeletal muscles. This is also largely determined by genetics. Put simply, it’s about how much blood is able to hold our hearts, the more the better. Blood provides oxygen, which is our driving force. This can be compared to the engine capacity, the higher the faster the car.

The second limitation for enduranceathletes is the ability of muscle tissue to effectively use oxygen and theformation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – a fuel that allows musclecontraction and movement. ATP is known as a universal source of energy for allbiochemical processes occurring in living organisms. The effectiveness of thisprocess is measured by the so-called VO2 max (maximum oxygen volume).

Athlete’s response to training – the impact of genetics

Your genes can also determine how your body reacts to training, diet and other external factors.

Research on aerobic endurance shows that some people respond more to training than others. So, even if you have low genetic potential for endurance, you can respond well to training and develop your potential more than someone with a genetic “talent” who does not respond to training. The lack of conditioning genes does not mean that a person can not play sports, he just has to put more effort into training. Muscles are flexible and working on them, you can achieve what a person with athletic genes can not achieve.

Training also increases heart fitness, but the extent of this increase may depend on genetics. Genetically skilled athletes will have a significantly better response to training and will have a large increase in the number of mitochondria in their cells. (Mitochondria are the organelles in cells that produce ATP, so the more mitochondria a person has and the more efficient they are).

Other factors that affect sports skills

Genetics seem to have less impact on traits such as balance, agility, reaction time and accuracy. Many of these skills can be significantly improved through proper training.

Although many elite athletes are endowed with the right genetics for sports and great training, even recreational athletes can make the most of their skills thanks to optimal nutrition, good nutrition and positive psychological attitude.

An additional advantage is the fact that the current progress of science and technology allows us to check what genes lie in us. We no longer have to guess – we can investigate.