The demand for genetic knowledge about ourselves continues to increase with the rise of direct-to-consumer genetic testing, particularly in the world of sports where athletes strive to optimize their performance. Using Athletigen, olympic level track and field athletes are exploring the influence of their genes on athleticism while learning how to tweak their training programs with their coaches to complement their genetics. Similarly, with the development of the RugbyGene Project, elite rugby athletes plan to do the same. A recent review published in the European Journal of Sport Science summarizes a collection of genetic studies that describe the heritability of athletic performance traits. The review addresses rugby athletes in particular by doing three things:
- Gathering previously measured physiological/anthropometric data on rugby players.
- Describing genes that influence the various athletic demands for each player position.
- Putting this information together with existing rugby genetics studies and outlining what is known, where research is needed, and how further research should be approached.
The genes discussed in the paper include many of those explored daily by Athletigen users. For example the ACTN3 gene as it relates to power performance, genes involved in maximum oxygen uptake, COL5A1 and vulnerability to ligament injury, and COMT and its role in sport psychology.
The paper suggests using genetic testing for personalization of training programs but also, contrary to Athletigen’s vision, talent identification. Athletigen strongly believes in assisting all individuals to attain their goals by helping them leverage the knowledge buried in their DNA. This means allowing everyone to get the most out of their inherent strengths while developing strategies to overcome any limitations. Simply put, talent is the combination of nature and nurture. If anything, Athletigen now makes it possible for anyone to develop their talents more thoroughly by being able to truly nurture their nature.
The challenge, as the review paper acknowledges, is in determining how to incorporate both your genetic and non-genetic information to benefit you as an athlete.
“The challenge will then be to apply genomic technologies, alongside existing non-genomic data of course, to personalize the management of players in elite rugby union and facilitate the prescription of training, nutrition, playing load and management of injury risk in a more individualized manner than is currently possible to improve both performance and player welfare.”
Athletigen tackles this challenge head-on by bringing genetic knowledge to elite coaches and facilitating their understanding of genetics in sports through courses, seminars, and an intuitive web application. Equipped with new information, coaches will then guide their athletes on how to look to their DNA to personalize their training methods, nutritional plan, and recovery strategies. As the RugbyGene Project continues to build their cohort of rugby athletes, Athletigen will continue to support their initiatives by facilitating both genetic testing and genetic understanding as it relates to sports.