Sports Genomics: Athletics

When the stories of Nadia Comaneci’s ‘perfect 10’ and Sergey Bubka’s 6.10 meter pole-vault floored into the textbooks of our childhood and early adulthood, little idea did we have back then about the magnitude of their performances. For once, it seemed they were just born to be too good at gymnastics and many thought that their height, physique, and motor skills made them perfectly suited for the training and skills required excelling. Yes, we as humans differ in our abilities to achieve excellence in sport and this depends to some if not a major extent, on our genetic components. And yes, there’s a certain quintessential truth behind the genes of athletic performance.

As genetic testing evolved to add genomes from healthy individuals, it is only promising how it laid focus on how genes influence the function of lung, muscle and cardiovascular systems. Broader data pools embedded with technology will give us a chance to meet the science behind athleticism in unknown ways. One particular area where research laid much of its focus was around endurance and strength. At a young age, a child might not have the physical maturity and motor skills required to excel. It’s a point of motivation and how driven they are in the pursuit of their dreams. Genetic testing as a tool comes into the picture here. If one is only depending on the genetic test as an indicator of performance, then he/she must and should get disappointed. Genetic test will only give an idea about the best type of sport suited for a child, but nothing else. So in our case, Bubka or Comaneci might have just had that genetic component that allowed for unprecedented Olympic success. They might have struggled badly in other sports. Who knows?


One of the extensively studied genes associated with athletic performance is ACTN3, commonly known as the “sprinter’s gene” or “speed gene”. This gene has conditions that produce alpha-actinin-3, a protein that favours fast-twitch muscles contract strongly at high speeds. Individuals who produce more alpha-actinin-3 are more prone to sprinting than long-distance running. Any variant in this gene will lead to the development of slow-twitch muscle fibres and are highly inclined towards endurance activities like long-distance running.  Another important finding in the role of genetic variants is associated with muscle strength. Research reports have found 16 different variants that play a part in muscle/grip strength. One such gene was TGFA, commonly called as transforming growth factor-alpha. The role of TGFA in the human body lies in cell division and supporting the growth. Variation in this gene is associated with an increase in muscle strength. However, it has to be kept in mind that, though DNA tests reveal our predispositions, they should not be thought as foretellers of an individual’s actual athletic ability. Your athletic performance is directly influenced by a host of factors like food and diet, training, skill level, environment, and work ethic and can play a big role in the fitness levels. What your DNA speaks about you goes in tandem with how you approach your fitness regime. For example, let us say an individual has ACTN3 R577X variant, which favours slow-twitch muscle fibre. That doesn’t mean he/she will fail at powerlifting/ weightlifting. What it tells is, you may have to put extra efforts of sacrifice and hard work to excel when compared with the one who does not have the variant. 


One major thing genetic testing can do is to provide insights to help us perfectly plan our decisions and approach our training in a more structured and systematic manner. If you face hardships as a sprinter, it can be that your body is more favourable towards endurance activities like swimming and marathon running. Understanding our genetic material will summon us to approach rest and recovery, and avoid injuries. Even though our genes cannot tell everything about us, they can surely guide us in a systematic way as we pursue better health and improved athletic performance. More importantly than anything, if you want something very badly and have determined to excel no matter what, you will be unstoppable.

How Mapmygenome Can Help You:

At Mapmygenome, our focus is mainly on predictive risk assessment, maintaining a proper diet, adapting to a healthier lifestyle. We focus on preventive healthcare and wellness. With screening tests like MyFitGene, you can personalize your training and diet while understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your body. If you know the right road to choose, you are halfway to the finish line! Know the best way to get fit for life, read your DNA story to know yourself completely.

We offer personalized health solutions based on genetic tests that help people to get to know about themselves. By combining genetic health profile and health history with genetic counselling, we provide actionable steps for individuals and their physicians towards a healthier life. To learn more about our tests, write to or call us at 1800 102 4595.


  1. Ahmetov, Ildus I., et al. “Genes and athletic performance: an update.” Genetics and Sports. Vol. 61. Karger Publishers, 2016. 41-54.
  2. Giuseppe Lippi, Umile Giuseppe Longo, Nicola Maffulli, Genetics and sports, British Medical Bulletin, Volume 93, Issue 1, March 2010, Pages 27–47,
  3. MacArthur, Daniel G., and Kathryn N. North. “Genes and human elite athletic performance.” Human genetics 116.5 (2005): 331-339.
  4. Ostrander, Elaine A., Heather J. Huson, and Gary K. Ostrander. “Genetics of athletic performance.” Annual review of genomics and human genetics 10 (2009): 407-429.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not exhaustive by any means. Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, procedure, or treatment, whether it is a prescription medication, over-the-counter drug, vitamin, supplement, or herbal alternative.