Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Training in Line W/ Your Genetic Potential Can Boost Your Performance Gains More Than 600%, DNAFit™ Studies Say

While the study at hand appears to confirm that the DNAFit test can tell you if you're an endurance or strength athlete, it won't help you achieve goals you were not "made for" - it eventually you may thus have to give up your dream of being the fastest, strongest or most chiseled guy / gal on the track, field or in gym.
You probably know that: There's that guy at the gym who has been training only half as long as you and still made twice the gains, ... must be juicing that idiot, right? Well, even if we assume that you're not one of the >50% of trainees who overtrain (and undereat) that's by no means the most likely explanation for the astonishing discrepancies.

A recent study that was conducted by a consortium of European researchers is now the first to impressively demonstrate that "matching the individual’s genotype with the appropriate training modality leads to more effective resistance training" (Jones. 2016) What the scientists some of whom work for a company that offers corresponding DNA tests won't tell you, though is that their test will eventually just help you to select the right sport, not to excel in the one sport you have already chosen.
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Eventually, none of this should surprise you, though. Scientists and practitioners alike have suspected for centuries and known for decades that elite athletes are born, not formed in the gym. Association studies have identified dozens of genetic variants linked to training responses and sport-related traits (Table 1 provides a glimpse at the peak of a hitherto largely unknown iceberg of genetic variants that will influence your adaptation to specific training types).
Table 1: List of known genetic variants that influence your adaptation to specific (resistance) training stimuli that were analyzed with the patented DNAFit Peak Performance Algorithm™ in the study at hand (Jones. 2016).
Yes, the way and consistence with which you train will obviously have an effect on the way your physique, strength, speed, conditioning, etc. develops, but when all is said and done, you are simply lucky if you're not lapped by somebody who has trained just as intense- and persistenly who was gifted with a more appropriate gene set for the sports you love. It is thus no wonder that scientists have been pondering about ways to (a) select the right candidates for the right sports and (b) personalizing athletes' training based on their genetic profiles.

In the previously cited study, Jones et al. proposed to do just that by the means of an algorithm that would allow athletes to achieve "greater results in response to high- or low-intensity resistance training programs by predicting athlete's potential for the development of power and endurance qualities" (Jones. 2016).The DNAFit algorithm which is designed to predict the response to high- or low-intensity resistance training programs invokes the 15 performance-associated gene polymorphisms from Table 1.
Figure 1: Both studies used the same randomized, double-blinded crossover design (based on Jones. 2016).
To validate it, its designers from DNA Sports Performance Ltd. and scientists from the University of Central Lancashire, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Parc Científic i Tecnològic Agroalimentari de LleidaPCiTAL performed two studies in independent cohorts of male athletes using in ...
  • study 1: athletes from different sports (n=28) / 55 Caucasian male University athletes, all aged 18-20 years, volunteered for the study, and 28 of them (height 180.7 ± 1.5 cm, weight 77.0 ± 2.1 kg) successfully completed it (27 athletes had not completed all aspects of the study due to either injury or illness); each participant was a member of first or second team, actively competing in British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) leagues. The athletes competed in squash (n = 1), swimming (n = 7), running (n = 1), ski/snowboard (n = 4), soccer (n = 1), lacrosse (n = 2), badminton (n = 1), motorsport (n = 1), cycling (n = 4), cricket (n = 2), volleyball (n = 1), fencing (n = 1) and rugby union (n = 2). and 
  • study 2: soccer players (n=39) / 68 male soccer players, all aged 16-19 years, volunteered to participate in the study, and 39 of them (height 176.1 ± 1.0 cm, weight 68.9 ± 1.5 kg) successfully completed it (29 participants were withdrawn from the study due to non-adherence of set training volumes over the 8 weeks, or injury); each subject was a member of college soccer academy who actively competed in British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) league.
In both studies athletes completed an eight-week high- or low-intensity resistance training program, which either matched or mismatched their individual genotype. In that, participants of both studies were initially randomly allocated to an eight-week high- or low-intensity resistance-training program, after undergoing performance tests for both explosive power and endurance. After another set of performance tests, they then transitioned to the respective other 8-week intervention, the results of which were then compared with the previous ones and correlated with the subjects gene types.
No, the muscle or strength gains were not assessed: I am not sure why the scientists decided against measuring the lean / fat mass gains / losses. After all, their gene set included the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) receptor gene where polymorphisms at rs16892496 A/C that influences the secretion of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and prolactin (PRL) and has been found to modulate the amount of lean mass by Liu et al. in 2009. My best bets are that the reasons are financial ones (DXA is expensive, everything else inaccurate)strategic ones, with 8-weeks of training being unlikely to produce sufficiently inter-group differences in already trained athletes, given the small sample size(s) and range of sports that were included (esp. in study 1), or a mere consequence of the choice of protocols, which did not include a hypertrophy protocol (thus no measurement of muscle gains) and/or would obviously produce greater strength gains with the high intensity protocol (measuring those would thus be useless, too).
As the authors point out, "[t]he study was double blinded, in that all were unaware of their ‘genetic potential status’, as determined by the DNAFit Peak Performance Algorithm™" (Jones. 2016). Since this also included the lead investigator who coached the participants during the 8 weeks of resistance training, the notion that 'this is the optimal training type for me / my trainee' should not have influenced the study outcomes.
Figure 2: Intergroup comparisons of CMJ increases (%) in response to high- or low-intensity training; the %-ages over the bars indicate the difference to the mean effect (all) - It's easy to see that training 'according to your genotype' makes a 40-80% difference even if you compare the speficic to the average success; >100% for inter-group comparisons (Jones. 2016)
And still, as the data from the explosive power and aerobic fitness tests that involved countermovement jumps (CMJ) and an aerobic 3-min cycle test (Aero3) revelead, training 'according' to your genes (or rather the assessment of the DNAFit test), i.e.
  • high-intensity trained with power genotype or 
  • low-intensity trained with endurance genotype,
significantly increased results in CMJ (P=0.0005) and Aero3 (P=0.0004). Athletes from the mismatched group (i.e. high-intensity trained with endurance genotype or low intensity trained with power genotype), however, demonstrated non-significant improvements in CMJ (P=0.175) and less prominent results in Aero3 (P=0.0134).
Figure 3: Inter-group comparisons of Aero3 increases (%) in response to high- or low-intensity training; left axes = power and endurance genes groups, right axes = all subjects (data from both cohorts | Jones. 2016).
Similar results were observed in the 2nd study, where  soccer players from the matched groups saw significantly greater (P<0.0001) performance changes in both tests compared to the mismatched group. In that, the following facts are particularly noteworthy:
  • the advantage of training 'according to your genotype' ranges from ~40% to ~80% even if you compare it to the average training response (Figure 1, "all");
  • comparing training according to training in discordance with your genotype(s) yields differences that range from 55% up to 610% (the latter in the soccer players on the low intensity regimen for CMJ; Figure 1, study 2 / low intensity)
What is maybe even more important than the statistically significant differences in the mean gains is the consistency of failure, i.e. the fact that Among non- or low responders of both studies, 82% of athletes (both for CMJ and Aero3) were from the mismatched group (P<0.0001).
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Bottom line: As the (maybe biased) authors of the study point out, their well-designed and appropriately blinded trial clearly "indicate[s] that matching the individual’s genotype with the appropriate training modality [as determined with 'their' proprietary DNAFit test] leads to more effective resistance training" (Jones. 2016). It does therefore stand to reason that "[t]he developed algorithm may be used to guide individualised resistance-training interventions" (Jones. 2016). Whether that's actually useful for the average gymrat, whose goal may diverge sign. from what he was 'born to achieve', though, is another story... at least until you'll be able to home-brew / -tweak your genes with CRISPER ;-)

Another thing we shouldn't forget is that getting big and buffed, the goal of a majority of male gymgoers, wasn't even investigated in the study at hand... I bet, though, that future studies with different training regimen and study populations (e.g. untrained individuals) will assess and probably find similar results for muscle and strength gains - And you know where you will be able to read about their results, right? | Comment on Facebook!
  • Jones, N., et al. "A genetic-based algorithm for personalized resistance training." Biol Sport 33.2 (2016): 117-126.
  • Liu, Xiao-Gang, et al. "Genome-wide association and replication studies identified TRHR as an important gene for lean body mass." The American Journal of Human Genetics 84.3 (2009): 418-423.