We are entering an age of science where are starting to do some pretty incredible things in the health field. Genetics is a field where a scientific renaissance is taking place. We are starting to be able to fine tune our diet like never before with genetic data through the study of nutrigenomics, or how diet influences our genome.
Have you ever wondered why one diet works for one, but not for another? Or why population studies on certain diets are continually conflicting? It is because we are all individually unique in our requirements and sensitivities. The most accurate way to understand this is through genetics.
As some of you know, I have a genetic nutrition practice called Nutrition Genome. I take the raw genetic data file from 23andme.com and analyze almost 100 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that have been found to be the most clinically relevant in studies. With this information, you can see where certain vitamins, compounds and minerals may be higher, which chemicals you are most sensitive to and therefore should make a larger effort to avoid (like pesticides, polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons in grains and vegetable oils or benzene), and what foods you want to focus on. Finding these things out help your body run at its highest genetic and biochemical level for power, strength, endurance, and efficiency.
How Genetics Can Improve Your Athletic Performance
I was listening to a podcast on sports nutrition and genetics while doing a long drive this past week. They were talking about how certain protocols work wonderfully for certain athletes, while others are non-responders and wished they knew why. We are starting to find out that the reason can be explained by many of these SNPs, which encode for enzymes that have vitamin and mineral requirements. Certain variants in these SNPs may increase the need of folate or magnesium to normalize enzymatic speed, and therefore optimal physiological function.
When we review studies, we need to pay as much attention to those that had zero effect as much as those that had an overwhelmingly positive response. If we can understand why then we can adjust their protocol. For example, genetic testing can reveal the following:
- Do you have a naturally lower VO2 max and need additional nutritional support to increase it?
- Are you more prone to muscle and ligament tears, requiring higher precursors to collagen production?
- Are you more sensitive to pesticides, and therefore more prone to microbiome and testosterone or estrogen disruption?
- If you are male, do you need higher amounts of testosterone precursors? If female, dietary strategies to increase progesterone and lower excess estrogen?
- Will supplemental creatine work for you? GAMT is a gene that converts SAMe and other cofactors into creatine, needed for muscle strength. If someone is already producing enough creatine, taking more supplemental creatine most likely will not increase strength.
- Do you experience longer recovery times? Is it actually more anti-inflammatory support that you need for recovery, not more protein?
- How do you respond to caffeine? Caffeine in coffee may help focus and performance in one while it may increase anxiety, cardiovascular risk and lower bone mass in another.
- Do you require higher amounts of B12, folate, B6 and choline for the methylation cycle that takes places a billion times a second in every cell in your body? This understanding can make a huge difference keeping inflammation down.
What is so incredible about this tool is that we are finally able to understand more about why population studies in nutrition are constantly conflicting. You can fine-tune every part of your biochemistry for more energy, strength, power and endurance by understanding where your higher needs are, and potential sensitivities lie. Genetics enables us to move into the world of personalized medicine, where we can focus on the individual and move away from sweeping generalized recommendations.
Genetics and Your VO2 Max
People who have a heterozygous or homozygous variant in the PPARGC1A gene in the Nutrition Genome Report have a VO2 max (maximum oxygen capacity) that is 20-50% lower. Ashwagandha and eleuthero root are two adaptogens that have been proven to increase VO2 max. But what about cold water?
Athletes are constantly trying to improve their VO2 max and cold exposure may be a way to do it. Since the mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell) are what give us the ability to use oxygen in order to produce cellular energy, the more we have the more aerobic potential we can obtain. Cold exposure activates the PPARGC1A gene, which makes more mitochondria in the muscle. One study had men immerse one leg in cold water at 50°F (10°C) for 15 minutes, 3 times a week for four weeks after running while the other leg served as a control. Researchers discovered that the cold water leg had an increase in the number of mitochondria in the muscle tissue.
In another study, 9 well-trained runners performed three repetitions of a simulated trail run on a motorized treadmill, designed to induce muscle damage. Three different recovery modalities (whole body cryotherapy, far infrared or passive modalities) were used in random order immediately post run, 24 hours and 48 hours after exercise. The whole body cryotherapy was most effective, with a 20% increase in speed and power up to two days later.
How Genetics Can Help Reduce Injury Risk
Let’s take a look at just one gene for collagen. COL1A1 produces alpha 1 chain of type I collagen, a major protein in tendons and ligaments. According to this study, the gene encoding for the alpha1 chain of type I collagen (COL1A1) has been shown to be associated with cruciate ligament ruptures and shoulder dislocations.
ACL ruptures are considered the most severe injury sustained in sports. The T variant produces more COL1A1. Two TT’s reduced risk of ACL rupture by ten times, while only 5% have two TT’s. Consider the following from a Stanford lecture on injuries:
- Approximately 30-75% of runners and 50-75% of triathletes are injured each year.
- 159 MLB players injured in 2013, costing 602 million in salaries (18.9% of total MLB payroll).
- 100,000-250,000 ACL reconstructions per year costing 1.7-6.25 billion in direct healthcare costs.
- 75% of the track team at Stanford gets injured.
Vitamin C, lysine, glycine (SHMT gene variants may increase the need of B6 for glycine production) and proline may be required in higher amounts in those with poor collagen production and injury recovery, which is a large percentage of the population. In fact, a rat study found that high-dose vitamin C accelerated the healing of the Achilles’ tendon. This information could also have implications for the heart, kidney and liver health, and the repair of blood vessels, bruises, and broken bones.
I had COL1A1 tested myself, and I have two CC’s putting me at the highest probability of muscle and tendon injuries. And I have had a LOT of these types of injuries, including tearing ligaments and tendons in my ankle that stopped my baseball career, and muscle tears in my back that took 2 years to recover from. If I had known why I was more prone to injury, I would have started utilizing Great Lakes Collagen and C-Salts much earlier in my athletic career. I have also seen a lot of joint pain and arthritis diminish with this combination.
Now imagine finding exactly what other nutrients your body requires strength, endurance, recovery and general cardiovascular health. I wrote an article about how certain nutrients can help prevent the damage and speed recovery of concussions, and now you begin to see how you can build your body to its strongest by finding where the chinks in your own armor are, and how to design your own Iron Man suit.
How to Get Your PaleoEdge Athletic Performance Report
You can get this done through Nutrition Genome, which gives you a comprehensive 50-page report including the comprehensive Athletic Performance section, analysis, and custom grocery list.