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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

Sporting Genes

We see that some traits or talents seem to “run” in families, and sometimes it’s down to genetics, sometimes it’s down to the environment, and sometimes it is both! Some traits like athletic ability are a mixture of genetics and environment, the fancy name for this type of trait is multifactorial. When we talk about environment in genetics, we mean everything that can influence the trait that is not genetic. So, in this case, environment can be nutrition, coaching and determination etc.

Athletic ability is complicated because different traits are beneficial for different sports. If you are tall, then you might be better suited to sports like basketball. Other traits like muscle strength and what type of muscle fibres make up the muscles are also important. There are slow-twitch fibres that are better for endurance sports and fast-twitch fibres that are better for sprinting, power and strength. Then there are other helpful traits like flexibility, coordination and aerobic capacity. This is how much oxygen the body can circulate to all the tissues.

Researchers have studied these different factors and suggest that genetics account for 30-80% of the differences between athletes’ sporting abilities. The genes best studied are “ACTN3” and “ACE”. These genes are linked to muscle fibre type, strength and endurance. Everyone has these genes, but there are different versions of the gene (called alleles) that are found in different people. A specific version of the gene may give the person an advantage and could change the proportion of muscle fibres in their body, making them better at running.

There are thousands of genes, and to find the ones involved in athletic ability is challenging. Also, it is difficult to separate genetics and the environment. Maybe you have the best genetics to be an ice hockey player, but you grew up in Africa where the sport is not available. Perhaps you don’t have the best genetics to be a tennis player, but you practice every day, have private lessons and try really hard and you end up being great.

Maybe you are naturally sporty, or perhaps you need to put that extra effort in. Either way, never stop trying and never stop pushing yourself!

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