Scientists have discovered genes that determine our response to training stress and the key to unlocking endless performance potential.
Our heredity has a lot to do with it. That’s nothing new. It is relatively common knowledge that we are born with certain traits that influence our athletic performance. For a select few, your parents have bestowed upon you a genetic gift, and for that, you should be thankful.
Everyone else, like me, who lined up for the genetic race with inferior equipment, is on a continual quest to keep the pace—searching for the training formula that will mitigate our weaknesses and optimize our strengths. Trying to make the most of what our body composition has left us.
In the article entitled “ New Science Suggests That You May be Able to Change the Type of Rider You (Think You) Are,” previously posted on The ZOM, you will find evidence that we can change the type of fibers in our muscles. Through a focused training plan, our muscles can adapt, improving our performance in that specific area of fitness. In turn, allowing us to train to be better climbers or sprinters when we thought we had lost all hope.
According to researchers from the Cambridge Center for Sport & Exercise Sciences, it may not be as simple as that. Have you ever wondered why your buddy seems to get stronger despite having a similar build and riding style even though you are following the same training program? The answer to how we respond to exercise may lie in our genes.
Genes Play an Essential Role in Our Training Response
In a recent study, the authors analyzed data from over 3,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 55 to determine our genes’ role in how we respond to exercise. Muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and anaerobic power are critical factors in deciding cycling performance.
The researchers used these three parameters to study the effect that the performance of the exact same exercise program had on their outcomes. The results were eye-opening.
Genetic Differences Influence Training Outcomes Significantly
Based on the combined data from 24 separate studies, the researchers determined that genetic differences account for 72% of the variation in outcomes following identical programs designed to target muscle strength.
VO2max testing showed that a 44% difference in cardiovascular fitness exercise response is due to genetic variation. For anaerobic power, the difference caused a 10% variation.
Some Basic Genetics Facts
The researchers don’t believe the differences are due to individuals having different genes. The varied traits that each gene has, its alleles determine their effect on exercise response.
Genes are a portion of the DNA sequence inherited from our parents that is responsible for specific traits.
Alleles are versions of the same gene with slight variations in their DNA sequence. The differences contribute to each person’s unique characteristics.
For example, we are born with a pair of genes for eye color with varied alleles that express what color our eyes will be.
Your genotype is all the genes passed on to you by your parents, but not all of them impact your visible traits. The physical characteristics you have are only due to the expressed genes found in your phenotype.
In the case of this study, the participants all have similar genes, but it is the disparity in the characteristics of their alleles that affects the exercise response.
Taking It To The Next Level
The authors didn’t stop there, however. Through the study, the researchers identified 13 genes that play a role in exercise outcomes. Specific alleles found in those genes make us more well-equipped for certain aspects of fitness.
Not only did the researchers identify the inequity, but they also discovered an explanation for the cause. Do you see what I see? The potential implications to cycling performance are profound.
The Cycling-Specific Implications Are Profound
Every athlete’s genes are different from what we know. As the research suggests, specific characteristics hide within our genes that cause athletes to respond differently to the same training.
With advances in genetic technology, an athlete’s phenotype information will become more accessible in the future. By shaping a focused training program based on an athlete’s individual genetic data, there is potential to optimize its effectiveness.
Picture this, you go to the genetic test shop and buy your phenotype. It shows that you have the allele that makes you stronger than your buddy when you do the exact same anaerobic training. Armed with that knowledge, what are you going to do?
Researchers Have Finally Sequenced the Entire Human Genome
Does it sound far-fetched to you? Not as far as you may think. In June 2000, scientists from the Human Genome Project (HGP) announced the first draft of the human genome sequence. 8 percent of the genome was missing, however.
Humans have 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs, which represent tens of thousands of individual genes. Each gene consists of base pairs of nucleotides (adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C)), and there are billions of these base pairs in the human genome. The base pairs in the incomplete 8 percent of the 2000 genome draft contain multiple repeated patterns that were too difficult to study at the time.
An international consortium of about 100 scientists, known as the Telomere-to-Telomere (T2T) Consortium, submitted a version of the human genome for peer review in May 2021 that they say is in its entirety. If their work passes peer review, it will change the future of medicine.
As researchers become more familiar with the genetic code, they will have the ability to make more precise and effective medical decisions and interventions and open up endless options for all genetically influenced areas of study, like athletic performance.
The Potential Performance Ramifications of Knowing Your Genes
You can train that strength confident that you will achieve exceptional results. Or, you can shift your emphasis to the other aspects of fitness armed with the knowledge that you need to work harder and smarter to get the results you want.
Your race calendar will reflect a greater proportion of events that suit your training propensity. Or you will guide your training based upon upcoming events, leaving more time to train your genetic inadequacy. Less time is required to withdraw the interest from your genetic trust fund.
Gone are the days of the generic strength and conditioning plan. No longer must we make performance decisions based on relative unknowns.
We always had the suspicion that we are the kind of rider we think we are because we were born that way. Now we have evidence that we are born with a predisposition to excel under certain types of training stress.
What will you do when armed with that knowledge? That’s up to you, your genetics coach, and time to tell. One thing I know for sure, all hope is not lost.
What will you do when armed with the genetic knowledge of your gift for specific types of training? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
For a deeper dive into the science behind cycling performance check out the Training & Performance page on The ZOM!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!