The other day, during a run that just felt longer and harder than usual, I cursed my body under my breath. “What’s wrong with you? You’ve got two copies of the ACE endurance allele!”
ACE is a gene that’s linked to physical performance, and I knew which variation I had (allele is a science term for different forms of the same gene) because my results had come in from Fitness Genes, a DNA testing company that recently relaunched to shift its focus from working only with bodybuilders and pro athletes to helping average people work on fitness and overall health goals.
“We specialize in showing you how you should exercise and eat based on your DNA,” says CEO Dan Reardon, an MD-trainer who founded the company with a geneticist and nutrition expert. “Obviously no two people are the same, but the same people follow the same exercise and nutrition program and don’t get the same results. We deliver information about genetic results and then tailor plans based on these variations.”
It’s just one example of a growing interest in (and industry springing up around) at-home genetic testing. A recent FDA decision allowed talked-about company 23andMe to resume business and you can now spot people posting their results on Instagram. Quest Diagnostics is launching a Fitness Genes competitor, Blueprint for Athletes, soon.
Here’s how it works: For $199, Fitness Genes ships you a DNA Performance Kit, which includes a plastic tube you spit into. You ship your saliva sample back, and when the genetic results are ready, you log into a web portal to read through them. They include which gene variation you have for around 15 genes connected to physical performance, metabolism, and sleep.
I found out, for example, that my genes most likely predispose me to perform well when it comes to endurance and aerobic workouts as opposed to building muscle volume and strength. I also learned that I’m likely to have an average metabolism (not too fast, not too slow), be lactose tolerant, and have “a low likelihood of having disturbed circadian rhythm.”
All of this was fun and interesting to read through, although for me, it served more to confirm characteristics I’d already observed in myself rather than to expose startling revelations (as opposed to more disease-specific genetic testing, like the BRCA variations that increase breast cancer risk). I already knew, for instance, that I’m a much better runner than barbell lifter, milk doesn’t upset my stomach, and that I generally sleep okay. Would I, as an average person who just wants to be generally healthy while maybe getting a little stronger, find a way to use the information in a way that would truly affect my routine?
Reardon says the data will enable people to take their health to the next level, and Fitness Genes provides workout and nutrition plans (for an additional cost) that are tailored to your personal results.
“For the everyday consumer, there’s so much information that’s out there that they have no idea what’s relevant to them,” he says. “We’ve learned and researched so much and worked with the best people in the world.”
Whether people will want to jump on that complex genetic info to improve their health remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: I’ll never have an excuse to complain on a long run again.—Lisa Elaine Held
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