Can Genetic Testing Help You Get in Shape?

Find out how genetic testing works and how to choose the perfect exercise program for you based on your genetics.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #295

A recent blog headline caught my attention: Training in Line With Your Genetic Potential Can Boost Your Performance Gains More Than 600%.

So could this be true?

Can you really use your genetics to get massive breakthroughs in fitness?

How Genetic Testing Works

So let’s first take a quick look at how genetic testing works.

Genetic tests are typically performed on a sample of blood, hair, skin, amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds a fetus during pregnancy), or saliva. Most modern popular DNA tests for fitness or nutrition, including the one you’ve likely heard of—23andme—use a saliva sample in a method called a “spit test.” Although it isn’t a map of your entire detailed genome, this direct-to-consumer genetic testing, also known as at-home ­genetic testing, allows you to conveniently get a glimpse of important sections of your DNA, including parts that affect your fitness.

Just one mouthful of your saliva contains a huge amount of biological material from which your genetic blueprint can be determined, including hundreds of complex protein molecules called enzymes, along with cells sloughed off from the inside of your cheek. Inside each of these cells is a nucleus, and inside each of these nuclei are chromosomes. Chromosomes are made up of DNA, the double-stranded molecule that affect protein programming in your body, including how you look, how you act, how you process certain types of food, and how your muscles work. 

Genetic Testing for Fitness

Let’s take a look at how different enzymes can affect your fitness. 

One enzyme is called ACE, or “Angiotensin I-converting enzyme.” This is a small enzyme that plays an important role in blood pressure regulation and electrolyte balance. Its activity leads to blood vessel constriction and increased blood pressure, and it is also the most researched gene in relation to exercise performance.

If you have what is called a “DD” copy of this gene, then power-based training is recommended, and you get good muscle growth from weight training and strength sports, along with good muscle recovery. On the flip side, you need to ensure your blood pressure is monitored during high intensity exercise because it can tend to get too high.  

Interestingly, when it comes to nutrition, this same D variation may increase sensitivity to refined carbohydrates and lead to reduced insulin sensitivity, especially in overweight individuals. 

If you have the “ID” version of this gene, then a mixture of power and endurance based training recommended.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.