Understand your DNA and become a better runner
Want to be a better runner? The key could be in your genes.
Knowing more about your makeup can help you tailor your training to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit from your running sessions. We invited the running pros at Running Heroes to give us their 5 ways knowing your DNA results can improve your running.
1. You’ll know what distances you should be targeting
Ever wondered if you’re more suited to 5kms or ultramarathons and endurance events? Running a 100-mile race is a pretty arduous way to discover it’s not for you. Luckily there's an easier way! A DNA test can tell if you’re likely to have more fast or slow-twitch muscles fibres. Muscles are made up of both but most people will be dominant in one type and they work in different ways:
- Slow-twitch fibres contract slowly and can keep going for a long time without getting tired so they’re great for endurance events like long-distance running.
- Fast-twitch fibres on the other hand contract quickly but tire easily, meaning they’re better for rapid movements like sprinting.
Elite marathon runners tend to have anywhere up to 80% slow-twitch fibres while Olympic sprinters have more fast-twitch fibres.
2. You can prepare for any nutritional deficiencies that could affect your running
Times getting slower even though you’re training regularly? While there could be a number of causes, one a lot of runners tend to overlook is an iron deficiency, something which could be highlighted with a DNA test.
Runners need to take particular care they’re getting enough iron as endurance exercise stimulates red blood cell production, meaning iron requirements go up.
Additionally, “footstrike haemolysis”, which is where the repeated pounding of your feet during running can cause red blood cells to be squashed, can also affect your iron levels.
Iron is important for transporting oxygen to muscles through red blood cells so if you’re exercising those muscles regularly, you may notice symptoms of a mild deficiency that a sedentary person wouldn’t.
3. You’ll know whether coffee before a race is a good or bad idea
A study published in the Journal of Sports Science found a group of male runners improved their 8km track time by an average of 24 seconds when they had 3mg of caffeine for every kilogram of their body weight an hour before running. Further research has shown it can affect your rate of perceived exertion – so running faster feels easier – and many Olympic runners say they use caffeine before a race.
But before you start caffeine loading before each training session and competition, find out first how well your body actually deals with this stimulant. For some, caffeine can disrupt digestion, overload the liver detoxificationpathways,
can cause jitters and anxiety.
A DNA test can prevent you desperately searching for that mid-race portaloo by highlighting whether you’re a fast caffeine metaboliser who’ll benefit from pairing caffeine and exercise, or a slow caffeine metaboliser who has less tolerance and may suffer adverse effects.
4. You’ll know if you need to spend more time in the gym
Strength training should be part of every runner’s routine. Stronger muscles can help improve form and endurance, reduce the chance of injury and boost running economy. That said, many runners don’t need much of an excuse to skip the gym in favour of a run or a rest day.
If you’re a strength-training swerver, a DNA test could be the motivation you need. While your BMI may be in the healthy range you can still be carrying too much fat and not enough muscle and a DNA test can show how likely this is to be the case. And if you really, really don’t want to do any gym work, get to the track, sprint intervals are great for building muscle.
5.You’ll know what to eat for the best performance
Should you be carb loading or eating high protein, going vegan or opting for Paleo? The world of nutrition is confusing enough before you take into account the extra requirements caused by marathon training and track sessions.
But nutrition is not one size fits all and what works for a fellow runner may not work for you. A DNA test can show a number of things including your metabolic rate so you know how much food you need to fuel your training. It can also reveal how well you process dietary fat so you’ll know whether it’s your body’s preferred energy source or if you’re more likely to store it as body fat. Your genes also show how well you absorb vitamins and minerals so you’ll know if you need to supplement your diet so you can perform at your best.
Oh and ever been astonished by people who can run a super-fast half marathon the day after a night on the beers? DNA testing looks at how your body metabolises alcohol so you’ll know whether you can get away with a glass of wine the night before a long training run or if it’s going to leave you feeling wretched.