ACTN3, MCT1, HIF1, ADRB2, DIO1-D1a, DIO1-D1b, NOS3, PPARGC1A, ACE, EPOR.
Are these letters and numbers the key to unlocking your athletic potential? Each of the above is a specific gene that Dún Laoghaire-based company Genetic Performance detect in their sports-focused DNA tests.
By analysing each of these genes, Genetic Performance can help their clients to understand the natural make-up of their body and, ultimately, refine and improve their training programme for their chosen sport.
David Epstein’s The Sports Gene has helped to push the area of genetics further into the mainstream, while professional clubs in a range of sports have become open to the idea of testing the DNA of their athletes in order to gain a competitive edge.
Premier League clubs in England have already begun to analyse their players’ genes, while Genetic Performance have reached out to the Irish rugby provinces to learn if they are receptive to the idea.
However, as Joseph Dalton – the company’s Global Sales and Business Development Director – explains, genetic testing is not only for elite athletes.
“I think there’s an awakening of sports, especially in Ireland. More and more people are going to events and training for Crossfit, which has exploded. We have a big interest from triathletes, ironmen, guys who are playing rugby and trying to get an edge in their game, GAA players, MMA fighters.
“You train hard to get where you want to be, and sometimes you can’t actually train any harder. What can you do? You can train smarter; that’s the reality of it.”
Genetic Performance can help their clients to create and manage more intelligent training programmes, routines that are fitted to each individual’s specific genetic strengths and weaknesses. Muscle fiber type, isometric grip strength, lactate levels, VO2 max, exercise muscle pressure and aerobic fitness are just some of the elements analysed.
Genetic testing sounds like an advanced procedure, but in truth it is as simple as rubbing the inside of one’s cheek with the cotton swabs Genetic Performance send out by post. The client returns the swabs in a sealed envelope and Dalton’s firm then forward them to their testing facilities in Washington D.C. in the US.
Within weeks, the results are available and Genetic Performance will provide the client with an in-depth 12-page analysis of their sporting DNA.
What we’re trying to do is bring science and technology into the hands of every sportsperson on the globe. It’s giving people the understanding and knowledge of how their body works genetically,” says Dalton.
Including highly-respected sports scientists such as Dr. Declan Connolly, Keith Wetherby and Tony O’Brien, as well as nutritionists Lynne Dalton and Anne Quirke, the Genetic Performance team is as rounded as the product they provide.
A simple DNA test [costing around €180] is the finishing point for some, but as Dalton points out, simply having that knowledge is meaningless [although fascinating] if the client cannot put it to good use in their training. Genetic Performance can provide personalised 12-week strength and conditioning plans based on the results, as well as detailed nutrition programmes.
“If you get the test and do nothing with it, it’s just a piece of paper,” says Dalton. “Are we a DNA testing company? Yes. Or are we defining ourselves as a sports performance company? I would like to think we are that too.”
The detailed information that the tests provide on each subject’s genetic tolerance to certain foods is another important part of the package, which comes in at just under €500 and includes several consultations with Genetic Performance’s experts.
“A lot of people in Ireland, in my opinion, think sports nutrition is for elite athletes,” continues Dalton. “We say sports nutrition and many think it’s only for the top level of professional sports people.
“People going to Crossfit, kettle bell training, cross country running, whatever; that’s their sport of choice, so why aren’t they doing the same? Most people I know train four or five times a week, so they should be focused on getting that nutrition right.”
We look to see if a person is lactose intolerant or whether they’re intolerant to sugar. We also look at other things like the FTO gene, which is nicknamed ‘the obesity gene’. With that, depending on the marker, we can tell if a low-protein or high-protein diet suits that person better.”
At present, the largest portion of Genetic Performance’s business is done in America, where the knowledge of and belief in genetic testing is far more “advanced” than elsewhere.
American football teams, individual athletes of world-class abillity and recent Winter Olympians have been among the County Dublin company’s clientele in the past year. Dalton wants to expand the firm, making Genetic Performance a hub for the entire genetic testing world.
His plans are ambitious but realistic in a field that is rapidly growing.
“We’re looking to bring other genes onto the market, which will bring our tests up another level again. We’re going to be looking at the different vitamins people’s bodies deal with, how people deal with coffee. There is so much we can look into.
“In ten years’ time, you’ll have a microchip that a doctor can plug into the computer and look at your full DNA sequence. You’ll have insurance companies wanting to have a look at people’s DNA sequences.
“Genetic testing is where Silicon Valley was 20 years ago. There’s a company in the US who do genetic testing who just got an investment of €65 million. The stuff that we’re working on, as an athlete, you’ll be blown away by.”
Deep analysis of the various aspects that make up sport is the norm now as clubs target as many marginal gains as they can. That process is now beginning to include the study of the very make-up of the individuals who carry their hopes on the pitch.
Genetic Performance plan to remain at the forefront of the evolution, but as Dalton underlines, it is not only professional athletes who can be part of it. Everyone dreams of getting better in their sporting pursuits, and genetic testing is another element towards that goal.
This is not about promotion of those with superior genes, but rather the belief that everyone can train and play smarter.
I don’t believe that there’s a bad gene. I believe that you have one set of markers for one person and one set for another. A certain person might be better in a different sport or by changing their training; I wouldn’t rule anyone out.
“Everybody is different. Some people have leaner body mass, others have a heavier body mass. Some people are pear-shaped, some are apple-shaped; we all have different markers. We’re not all meant to be lean, skinny and beautiful.
“We’re getting individuals coming to us, we’re getting clubs speaking to us, who want to know more about it. You’re hearing about genetics all the time now, people are talking about it. We know that it’s the future.”