Live like an Olympian: DNA analysis

Illustration by Justin Metz

What it measures: Your genetic profile

Why have it? They say if you want to be an athlete, choose your parents carefully. While it’s a bit late for that, you can now see what genetic cards you’ve been dealt through fitness-specific DNA testing. ‘Genetics determine between 20 and 70 per cent of the overall picture when it comes to your response to training,’ says Andrew Steele, an Olympic 400m runner and one of the founders of gene-testing company DNAFit. ‘The test quantifies that slice of the pie for people so that they can tweak their training and nutrition to better reach their goals.’ Steele stresses that DNA testing is not about telling people to change their goals, ‘it can simply help you improve the route you take to get there.’

A new study published in the Journal of Biology, found athletes following DNA results-based training programmes improved almost three times as much as those on unmatched training programmes. Not all DNA tests cover the same quantity, or type, of gene variants and Steele says all 45 gene variants included in the DNAFit test pass strict criteria: multiple peer-reviewed studies need to have confirmed the effect of a particular gene variant on fitness and, crucially, there has to be something you can do about your result.

Surprisingly, DNA testing has not yet been adopted by UK athletics’ governing bodies, but many other sports have embraced it, and individual athletes, including Tom Lancashire, Craig Pickering and Greg Rutherford are enthusiastic. Rutherford took the DNAFit test in May last year and has used the results to inform his training for Rio. ‘I’ve long known that the training that works for me does not necessarily work for others,’ he says. ‘Understanding my genetic make-up has helped me reinforce the lessons I’ve learnt through many years of trial and error about how best to train my body.’

What’s it like? It’s a simple matter of taking a swab from inside your mouth and sending it off for analysis, along with a detailed health questionnaire. I took DNAFit’s Fitness Premium test, and the results were intriguing. My version of a gene called COL5A1 means I’m susceptible to tendon injury (which fits my history) and that while my capacity for improving my V02 max is average, I have one of the most valuable gene variants associated with power. Going through my report in a phone-based coaching session enabled me to make useful changes, such as introducing high-load strength training to improve tendon strength, and upping my intake of inflammation-combating cruciferous vegetables to combat my slow recovery time.

Details: DNAFit Fitness Premium Test, £149