Our genes form the basis of who we are. In fact, recent research has suggested that our response to exercise may be influenced by variations in our genes. This makes sense, when we consider the variations that exist within human populations, including size, shape and facial features. However, why is it that variation in genes and the interaction between our genes and our environment influence the variability that is seen in physiological changes resulting from exercise? Current research suggests that specific genes either increase or decrease the amount of protein transcribed, that is, how protein is created in order for it to be utilised, after exercise. For example, the gene, FAT/CD 36, increases protein transcription, which improves recovery after exercise. However, it also enhances fat oxidation, meaning that it increases the body's efficiency to metabolise fat for energy. Fat as an alternative energy source is of particular importance to endurance exercise, as it is the main fuel used to fund energy. Hence, the capacity for specific genes to influence potential performance is extensive, particularly when we consider that in some athletes and individuals, this gene may not be expressed in a manner that allows the above to take place efficiently. For this reason, it suggests that certain athletes will have the capacity to out perform others. Moreover, failure of this gene to express itself efficiently has consequences far beyond athletic performance, including increased risk to type II diabetes, congestive heart failure, insulin resistance and obesity.
An athlete's dietary choices also influence their biochemical responses during exercise training, recovery from exercise training and most importantly exercise performance. Carbohydrate is a primary source of fuel for the human body, and when muscle glycogen stores are depleted, such as during prolonged exercise, exercise intensity and time to exhaustion decrease. This being so, it is easy to assume that the consumption of a high carbohydrate diet in trained individuals increases endurance exercise performance. However, current research holds that carbohydrate intake is regulated by genes that assist in the breakdown and storage of carbohydrate. For this reason, if particular genes are not expressed correctly, or the exact amount of carbohydrate required is not consumed, gene transcription may not take effect, and in turn compromise performance. For example, competitive road cyclists on a low carbohydrate diet, performing a two-legged dynamic knee extension exercise, showed, by way of muscle biopsies, reduced gene transcription that significantly compromised endurance performance.
It is fair to say that the profound effects of nutrition on sports performance is well documented, however, the genetic variation that plays a role in response to exercise is an interesting topic for further exploration.
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