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How Your Genes Affect Your Fitness: The Role of Nutrigenomics in Athletic Performance

Healthcare | Aug, 2023

Nutrition and physical activity stand out as two of the primary influencers impacting athletic performance. However, not all athletes respond to the same diet and exercise regimen in the same way. This is where nutrigenomics comes in. When considering athletic performance, nutrigenomics plays a crucial role in aiding athletes to unlock their genetic capabilities by tailoring personalized dietary plans and supplementation strategies.

Nutrigenomics aims to identify the specific genes that engage in the metabolism of nutrients and to understand how variations in these genes affect the way the body processes food. The human genome contains 20,000-25,000 genes, and each gene can have multiple variations or alleles. These variations can affect the way the body responds to different nutrients and can influence an individual's risk of developing certain diseases.

An array of elements, encompassing genetics, training, nutrition, and lifestyle, collectively influence athletic performance. Nutrigenomics can help athletes optimize their performance by identifying the specific nutrients and dietary components that are most beneficial for their genetic makeup.



For example, some athletes may require more protein to support muscle growth and repair, while others may require more carbohydrates to fuel their workouts. Nutrigenomics can also help athletes identify which types of fats are most beneficial for their health and performance. For example, some athletes may benefit from a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.

Another way that nutrigenomics affects athletic performance is by identifying an athlete's risk of injury. Some genetic variations have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of injuries, such as ACL tears. By identifying these genetic variations, athletes can take steps to prevent injuries and optimize their recovery.

The performance in sports of any individual is significantly impacted by their dietary choices and the use of supplements. This principle applies universally, encompassing diverse age groups, ethnic backgrounds, and skill levels, regardless of whether the objective is to enhance physical well-being and fitness or to engage in elite athletic training. A sports nutrition and supplement regimen that is customized to everyone is crucial, as emphasized in the most recent collaborative stance on "Nutrition and Athletic Performance" presented by the American College of Sports Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Dietitians of Canada. This statement underscores the necessity of tailoring nutrition plans according to the unique needs of each athlete, taking into consideration the distinct and specific responses to different strategies.

These approaches include broad dietary trends, balances between macronutrients, demands for micronutrients, eating habits, sensitivities to foods and intolerances, and the possible advantages or drawbacks linked to the utilization of supplements (such as vitamins, minerals, and protein powders) as well as performance-enhancing substances (like caffeine, creatine, and buffering agents). A shift away from our standard, one-size-fits-all team approach toward tailored nutrition and a focus on individual needs is what nutrigenomics, from science to practice, aims to address.

For example, some athletes may require more vitamin D to support bone health, while others may require more iron to support red blood cell production. Personalized performance nutrition can also help athletes identify which supplements are most beneficial for their health and performance. For example, some athletes may benefit from creatine supplementation, which has been shown to improve muscle strength and power.

According to the TechSci Research Report, “Global Nutrigenomics Market By Product & Services (Reagents & Kits v/s Services) By Technique (Saliva, Buccal Swab, Blood, Others) By Application (Obesity, Cardiovascular Diseases, Cancer Research, Digestive Health, Others) By Region, Competition Forecast & Opportunities, 2028”, the advancing applications in dermatology and food and beverages and the efficient diagnosis of metabolic and genetic diseases is substantially supporting the future growth of the nutrigenomics market.

Case Studies

Several studies have explored the use of nutrigenomics in optimizing athletic performance. One study looked at the effect of a personalized nutrition plan on the performance of elite rowers. The study found that the personalized nutrition plan improved the athletes' performance and reduced their risk of injury.

Another study looked at the effect of a personalized nutrition plan on the performance of endurance athletes. The study found that the personalized nutrition plan improved the athletes' endurance and reduced their risk of fatigue.

Several investigations have explored the influence of micronutrients, specifically calcium and vitamin D, which exhibit therapeutic impacts on specific PMS symptoms. Genetic variation both through, twin studies and candidate gene association studies have also been implicated as risk factors. Other risk factors such as mental health, adiposity, age, lifestyle habits such as sleep, alcohol intake and exercise are all common risk factors for PMS occurrence.

Considering the diverse reactions individuals exhibit towards dietary measures and the distinct array of symptoms encountered by each woman, tailoring personalized nutritional approaches guided by genetics could prove effective in addressing specific PMS symptoms in different females. TechSci Research’s investigation into the realms of nutrition, genetics, and PMS symptoms, indicates that individuals predisposed to a heightened risk of iron accumulation, as evidenced by specific variants in the HFE gene, demonstrated reduced likelihood of encountering premenstrual confusion, headaches, and nausea, in contrast to those with a standard risk of iron overload. It was also found that genes involved in vitamin D metabolism, specifically in the VDR gene, modify the effect of plasma 25-hydroxy vitamin D (25(OH)D) levels on PMS. TechSci analysis showed that insufficient 25(OH)D was associated with a higher risk of premenstrual fatigue in those with the CC genotype but lower risk in TT genotype carriers of the VDR genotype.



Tailored nutrition that takes an individual's genetic makeup into account is not a novel concept, and there are numerous instances of both rare disorders (such as phenylketonuria) and common conditions (like lactose intolerance and celiac disease) where specific dietary guidelines are employed to address metabolic deficiencies. In cases of prevalent ailments like lactose intolerance and celiac disease, the personalized dietary strategy involves the exclusion of dairy or gluten, respectively. Additionally, if your reaction to your daily cup of coffee ranges from feeling awake and invigorated to experiencing anxiety and restlessness, these responses can also be attributed to genetic diversity.

Numerous athletes remain uncertain about the potential benefits or drawbacks of caffeine. Conducting genetic tests to assess one's caffeine metabolism rate could serve to either confirm their suspicions or encourage them to undertake trials with and without caffeine during their workouts. This approach would replace mere assumptions about its efficacy and prevent them from forgoing its advantages by not attempting its incorporation into their routine. Although genetic testing is well-established in the clinical setting to help manage diseases and conditions, the growth in nutrigenomics research has created opportunities to improve health, wellness, and sport performance in athletes through nutrition-focused genetic testing. Amid the sporting realm grappling with precarious supplements and an unprecedented surge in doping violations, the community of sport science is actively embracing novel approaches to assist athletes in achieving their peak performance in a safe and legal manner.

While adhering to an optimal diet personalized to an individual's genetic makeup is the central objective of nutrigenomics, those collaborating with athletes often seek insights that extend beyond performance-oriented dietary recommendations. This includes guidance concerning the judicious utilization of supplements and ergogenic aids, along with determining which athletes would benefit and at what junctures. Despite possessing substantiated evidence of a supplement's efficacy, its impact might not be consistent across all athletes. For instance, substances like nitrates (found in beetroot), creatine, and caffeine exhibit notable variability in their ability to enhance performance and, in certain instances, might even hinder it.



The genetic composition human possesses influences how we absorb, process, and exploit nutrients, leading to distinct interactions between genes and diet that hold significance for both overall well-being and athletic prowess. An actionable embodiment of nutrigenomics is the application of individualized genetic testing, which can furnish insights guiding suggestions for dietary adjustments and supplementation.


A Deeper Dive in Cup of Coffee

Within the realm of nutrigenomics, caffeine emerges as the most extensively explored compound in trials investigating the direct effects of gene-nutrient interactions on athletic prowess. Widely utilized in athletic circles through mediums such as coffee, tablets, energy drinks, gels, chews, and "pre-workouts," caffeine is believed to enhance training intensity and competitive success. Yet, it is becoming evident that caffeine's impact on athletes is not universally advantageous and might indeed hinder performance for certain individuals. The TechSci Research’s findings underscore the significance of incorporating the CYP1A2 genotype into the formulation of personalized sports nutrition and supplement strategies.

Numerous studies have delved into the influence of supplementary caffeine on exercise performance; however, substantial diversity exists in the extent and even the absence of its effects when compared to a placebo. This considerable variance in individual reactions to caffeine is often overlooked in performance studies, and due to infrequent reporting of individual data, it is arduous to ascertain the degree of this variability. Notably, the performance of specific individuals frequently deviates starkly from the average findings, which may indicate caffeine's impact as beneficial, detrimental, or nonexistent on performance outcomes. Some of these individual differences seem to arise from genetic variations, such as the CYP1A2 gene, which relates to caffeine metabolism and response.

Over 95% of caffeine metabolism relies on the CYP1A2 enzyme. Genetic variances, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been demonstrated to alter CYP1A2 enzyme activity, categorizing individuals as either "fast" or "slow" metabolizers of caffeine. Individuals with the AC or CC genotype (slow metabolizers) exhibit heightened risks of conditions like myocardial infarction, hypertension, and pre-diabetes with increased caffeinated coffee consumption, whereas those with the AA genotype show no such susceptibility. Furthermore, habitual physical activity seems to mitigate the blood pressure elevation triggered by caffeine intake, but solely among individuals with the AA genotype, furnishing additional proof that genetics can serve as a confounding variable when discerning caffeine's effects across broader populations.

The disclosure of genotype-related effects on performance might come to light during prolonged exercise or situations involving fatigue accumulation (aerobic or muscular endurance), where caffeine traditionally exerts its most substantial benefits and where detrimental effects for slow metabolizers are more likely to manifest. Indeed, a study examining basketball performance in elite players revealed that caffeine bolstered repeated jumps (muscular endurance) solely among those with the AA genotype, with no genotype influence observed in the other two basketball simulation performance components. Similarly, in a crossover design encompassing thirty resistance-trained men, caffeine consumption led to a greater number of repetitions in repeated sets of three distinct exercises, and across all resistance exercises combined, culminating in a larger volume of work compared to placebo conditions, but again, exclusively among those possessing the CYP1A2 AA genotype.

Impact on Diet

Nutrigenomic testing encompasses a range of micronutrients whose optimal needs are influenced by genetic differences. These micronutrients include vitamins A, B12, C, D, and E, as well as calcium, iron, choline, and bioactive compounds like caffeine. Here are some illustrative instances of the insights provided by genetic testing: An individual's genetic profile can reveal whether they possess an effective ability to convert beta-carotene into the active form of vitamin A, guided by the BCMO1 gene. Similarly, another gene can indicate whether the enzymatic process governing this conversion is typical/efficient or slowed down in their case. The good news is, you can act and resolve it easily by consuming more beta-carotene foods or foods that already contain pre-formed vitamin A. Within the realm of athletes, vitamin A assumes a significant role in its capacity as an antioxidant, bolstering the immune system, and maintaining optimal eye health—an essential attribute in numerous sports demanding precise hand-eye coordination. A parallel scenario unfolds concerning vitamin D, indispensable for immunity reinforcement, muscle recuperation, and the sustenance of sturdy bones. Are you naturally proficient in the conversion of vitamin D into its active state, and do you adeptly facilitate its distribution throughout your body? Again, a gene that controls an enzyme is involved here, but we also have a transporter (of vitamin D) that is controlled by another gene. Therefore, two genes, the GC and CYP2R1 gene, are analyzed to determine your risk of vitamin D deficiency. This circumstance can be readily resolved by incorporating vitamin D supplements into your regimen, given the limited array of dependable dietary sources.

Moreover, nutrigenomics testing delves into optimal macronutrient proportions, offering insights into whether your genotype suggests a more conducive path to attaining and sustaining your preferred body composition through either a reduced-fat diet, low carb diet, or a heightened protein intake.


Undoubtedly, our genetic makeup plays an increasingly significant role in determining various aspects of performance and our unique nutritional requirements for optimal functionality and health. The emerging field of nutrigenomics applied to sports provides practitioners and researchers with a groundbreaking advantage to offer athletes personalized dietary guidance and performance-related insights based on their individual DNA profiles. This burgeoning scientific discipline stands as the forthcoming nutritional edge that will shape our competitive landscape within the realm of nutrition. By tailoring dietary and supplementation strategies in alignment with an athlete's unique genetic blueprint, we can facilitate athletes in realizing their innate genetic potential. It is important to note that genetics is not the only factor that affects fitness and athletic performance, and environmental factors such as nutrition, training, and lifestyle choices also play a crucial role. However, understanding how your genes affect your fitness can help you make informed decisions about your diet and training regimen to achieve your fitness goals.

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