Race DNA testing

WattsUp

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#1
Thought I’d post about this in case anyone’s interested.

Several years ago my wife and I did the 23&me DNA test for kicks ‘n’ giggles.
It was pretty easy, and kinda fun - we learned a bit, found a half-sister on my mom’s side which was pretty cool.
But that was about it – I guess we didn’t really have any outlier DNA marks to provide any really interesting results.
In that sense, I guess we’re kinda boring in the good way.

A while back, however, I listened to a Flo Cycling podcast talking about Toolbox Genomics, that provides a number of DNA testing services for specific applications, including diet and endurance performance. Not only does the service note areas of genetic predispositions and potential impact, they also offer recommendations based on those predispositions.

I was intrigued, especially when I found that the service was available to anyone that had already done DNA testing with other services such as 23andme.
All you had to do was link your accounts, with your 23andme DNA data being copied over to Toolbox, which would then run the report.
The cost for the report I was most interested in – RunDNA, which focuses on endurance performance – was $60, which is about the same (or less!) than the cost of one race here in Japan, so I figured what the heck, and purchased it.

Once I had linked my account and ordered the service, the report was available in about 30 minutes.
The report looked at and gave recommendations for 10 areas. I’ll outline them briefly

Metabolic Factors
I may have a higher resting metabolic rate (more brown adipose tissue, ‘brown fat’, that is active in burning calories)
Interestingly, I may also have an increased susceptibility to obesity (increased size and amount of fat cells in the body)

Endurance potential
May experience better performance when engaging in endurance exercise
May have higher VO2max and increased VO2 response to training
May experience impairment in lactate transport and clearance (earlier onset of fatigue)

Muscle Fiber Type
More likely to have Type 2, fast-twitch (power-type) muscles

Injury Susceptibility
May have an increased risk of degenerative disc disease, which can cause pain in the lower back, neck, hips, or legs

Recovery
May be prone to less deep sleep and shorter sleep duration
May experience higher levels of oxidative stress (can cause inflammation)

Best Time To Train
May prefer to rise and rest early and train in the morning

Caffeine Metabolism
Fast caffeine metabolizer

Nutrients
Predisposition to low levels of calcium, vitamin D3, vitamin B12, vitamin C and iron

Motivation
Warrior – may be better at dealing with stress and perform better under pressure

Habits
May be inclined to drink more caffeinated beverages, but may experience anxiety from caffeine

I suppose that a key caveat that Toolbox itself highlights as very important: genetics only indicate potential. Just because you have a particular gene does not determine whether that gene itself is actually expressed – a fast caffeine metabolizer may hate coffee, for example. Effort, diet, your environment and such all play a key role in which genes are actually expressed.

The first thing I noticed was that some of the results seemed almost ‘contradictory’ – for example, high resting metabolic rate but prone to obesity. Or potential for higher VO2 max and better endurance performance, but more likely to have fast-twitch muscles. After doing a bit more reading I realize that these are not necessarily ‘contradictory’ particularly since these are not binary in nature – these are not on/off switches, there are gradients, and (for example) the genes involved in metabolic rate proteins are not the same as the genes involved in obesity-related proteins, so having both isn’t ‘contradictory’: My environment, diet etc may determine which of those two factors play a larger role at any given time.

Most of the recommendations were reasonable and seemed a bit generic (common sense-ish) – make sure you have properly fitting running shoes, diet recommendations, avoid using your smartphone before going to bed, etc. I did learn a few things, however, particularly related to diet and potential supplements that I’m doing a bit more research into – magnesium showed up in a number of recommendations based on my test results. It also appears that I may find caffeine to be a good performance enhancer, so possibly using sports gels etc with caffeine might be an option.

So – what did I learn? Tough to say. It was kind of nice to see that I don’t face any clear significant disadvantages when it comes to endurance sports (heck, maybe I even have a bit of an advantage!) But I’ve always believed (based on personal experience) that hard work + average genes will beat great genes + poor work every day. So I don’t know if finding out I was disadvantaged somehow in terms of my genes would have changed anything. Paying full value for the test (I think it’s $160?) would have been a bit steep, but for one-third the cost (having already done the DNA testing with 23andme some years back), I found it interesting, and it gave me possibly one or two actionable ideas to look at, and it definitely gave me a lot more information for further research on my own.
 
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baribari

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#2
Supposedly Phil Gaimon took a similar (possibly the same) DNA test and it said he wasn't suited at all for endurance sports, so I have to question the validity of such testing.

I am terrified a test would tell me that I have zero business even thinking about endurance sports, and that this would kill what little motivation I already have to train, other than that I enjoy it.
 

WattsUp

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#3
But that's not at all what it said. The test result was that he wasn't as genetically well suited to endurance sports as compared to elite endurance athletes. Which isn't saying he 'wasn't suited at all for endurance sports' - in fact, it's not even remotely close to saying that. He was a pro racer, but not even Phil Gaimon himself would say he was 'elite'.

Also - remember that certain aspects of his genetics might not be well-suited to endurance sports, but other parts might be. Maybe he's less suited to have a high VO2max, but he's better suited to lactate clearance so fatigue sets in later. These aren't binary, on/off switches. They're all inter-related factors that vary in degrees.

And finally, it's really the wrong way to look at it. As I noted: just because a predisposition exists doesn't mean it is automatically expressed, nor does it mean it can't be augmented or offset by diet/environment/hard work.

If you're 7-feet tall, you have a head start to become a star in the NBA. Not every 7-footer even makes it close to the NBA, let alone becomes a star. Not every NBA star is 7-feet tall.

I confess to not understanding why anyone would be terrified of what a DNA test told me. It'd be like being terrified at finding out I'm not 7-feet tall even though I want to become an NBA player or something.
 

baribari

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#4
If you make it to the World Tour, you are an elite endurance athlete. Period. What you're talking about is being, say, 300th in the world versus versus being 16th in the world (Froome's rank). In tennis, for example, no one would say that the top 1000 players aren't elite tennis players.

Something like 1 in 20 NBA-aged seven foot-plus males is in the NBA. That's an *insanely" high number. As such, something as simplistic as height in basketball is not a good comparison for endurance sports.

I'd rather think "maybe" instead of know "definitely not." OTOH, if you find out that you're incredibly well suited to endurance sports, that could be very motivating. But if you are, you are probably already winning races!

Keep in mind that the word "elite cyclist" is used to refer to the best amateurs!
 

WattsUp

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#5
OK, so that’s not a question. Here’s a question, what percentage do you think talent has to do with becoming a top pro? Is it 100% talent, 0% effort or is it 0% talent, 100% effort? I imagine the answer is somewhere in between…

Phil Gaimon Diet is a factor for sure, but getting out and doing the training is 99% of it, and I’ve seen a lot of people stress about the 1% gains and neglect the 99.

I do know some people who seem to be guilty of what you’re saying, but it’s really hard to know how much genetic potential is a factor. Is Taylor Phinney a phenom because of physical gifts from his parents, or was he raised in an environment that taught him to succeed? What does it mean then if I know that he also works his ass off to be fast? And what would happen if you took away the most basic physical gifts, but he still got the tenacity or a work ethic?
I’ve known a lot of people with physical gifts who fail because they lack the focus, patience, or work ethic, but I know very few who did all the work and didn’t find some level of success. I’d put it something like 80%-20% work to talent.

schmalz So do you think there’s a place for less (physically) talented racers in the top level of the sport? Can a relatively regular racer make it?

Phil Gaimon I think anyone can make it. I don’t know about Europe or Grand Tours, but an average 18-year-old moved in with me, focused 100%, obeyed all of my orders for five years, he’d be a continental pro by the end of it, and potentially Worldtour five years later.
The 1-in-20 7-footers in the NBA is eye-popping (if it's accurate), but doesn't tell the whole story, does it? A seven-footer is far more likely to be recruited specifically to play basketball - it's a massive headstart, you can't teach height. Whereas the greatest cyclist the world has ever seen is very likely sitting on a coach somewhere eating doritos or something - what might make you a great cyclist isn't obvious, what might make you a great basketball player is really really obvious if you're seven feet tall. Despite the massive headstart being 7-feet tall is, 19 out of 20 aren't in the NBA. That's telling.
 
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baribari

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#6
It is. You're probably underestimating just how rare people over seven feet are.

1 in 20 of anything being at the top of one of the biggest professional sports in the country is an ASTOUNDINGLY powerful correlation.

There are 300,000,000 million people in the country. There are around 400 NBA players.

If you live in the US you have a 1 in 750,000 chance of being in the NBA. For 1 in 20 people to be in the NBA, that means they are 37,500 times more likely to be in the NBA than any other person in the US.

Try to imagine any other single characteristic made you 37,500 times more likely to succeed at anything. It means that by comparison you'd almost have to try to fail to at least make it to the minor leagues. People that big do tend not to be very well coordinated.

That's certainly an interesting interview, and I am a fan of his, but I don't think it's true. It might be true if you took a random 18 year-old elite junior cyclist, but that's not the same as an actual average 18 year-old. There's a huge self selection affect. For sure, you could probably turn any average person into a decent amateur, but no one born with maximum genetic Vo2max of 30 or 40 is going to be a UCI Continental Pro. Generally speaking, that sort of person doesn't choose to race to begin with.

I mean, you could turn anyone into a decent anything with five years of intense training, but professionals are by definition the best of the best. It's natural selection. Phil has survivorship bias.

It's definitely true that the greatest cyclist who ever lived might have never rode a bicycle.
 
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WattsUp

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#8
For sure, you could probably turn any average person into a decent amateur, but no one born with maximum genetic Vo2max of 30 or 40 is going to be a UCI Continental Pro. Generally speaking, that sort of person doesn't choose to race to begin with.
.
We might be talking slightly past each other, but sure, someone with a VO2Max of 30 or 40 doesn't get to the pro ranks. But there are lots of cyclists with a VO2Max of 65-70+ (I knew some in New York) that don't come close to the pro ranks because they don't have the work ethic / focus etc - that's what Phil said as well. His comment about taking anyone and turning them into a pro rider might be hyperbole, sure - but his point resonates, and science generally agrees that hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard. *That's* the point - someone might have an early head start, but not everyone works to maximize it. And I don't think anyone has that genetic head start across the board. For example - Froome weighs 10kg and is 20cm taller than Quintana. He may have an advantage in ability to put out power, but Quintana should have an advantage in being lighter with reduced air resistance.

It really is amazing the technology available, especially at the price points they're available at.
 
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baribari

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#9
I would kill to even have those numbers, but I do not think 65-70 is that high when you're talking about elite endurance athletes. You could make Phil weigh 10 kilos more and he'd still be at 75. That is genetics.

Vo2max is just part of the puzzle. You also need a huge tolerance (or even love) for pain, a tactical mind, and good muscles. A huge VO2 max doesn't mean squat if you don't know how to suffer and your muscles are junk. That said, those are the most trainable parts of the whole system. Essentially, you need to be able to sustain a very high percentage of VO2max for a realy long time. But even that is only going to make you a good amateur if your basic aerobic capacity is lacking.

I might go take a Vo2max test at the doctor's office, since I probably should get a clean bill of cardiovascular health before I start racing more frequently. If my absolute numbers put me within 20% of any World Tour pro rider's relative VO2max at 5% body fat (about 74 kg for me), I will eat my hat. Figuratively speaking. Of course if it says I am basically the equivalent of a coach potato even after all this effort, and would still be below average at racing weight, I would be very disappointed. Hehe.
 

WattsUp

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#10
I'd be interested in doing a VO2Max test as well, just for kicks 'n' giggles. Will have to try and find something in the Tokyo area. Although I wonder, does that estimate our -current- VO2Max, or our theoretical max VO2Max? WKO4 and Golden Cheetah (as well as my Garmin) all give me current VO2Max estimates that have steadily risen over the past year (currently at 50 for cycling, 42 for running).
 

baribari

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#11
I wouldn't worry too much about your relative VO2max. That will fluctuate wildly based on your current weight. That said, absolute VO2max will give you an idea of how you could perform at your ideal racing weight. With maybe 10-15% potential improvement? It's hard to find hard data.

I did some sleep apnea tests last year at a cardiovascular hospital and they said they could do VO2max tests, but I ended up doing a stress test without a mask. I will go ask them if they can ACTUALLY do the proper spirometry needed to give real vo2max numbers.

Make sure you can find a place that will take insurance! I would guess any "sports science" lab will charge out the arse for medical-grade testing and it won't be covered by insurance.
 

baribari

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#12
Based on today's MAP/FTP test (which based on on this test: https://zwifthacks.com/app/map-ftp-calculator/ and adjusted to be more like the TR test), my calculated vo2max at my current weight (roughly 100 kg) is 50. At my absolute best theoretical race weight (75 kg at a bit under 7% BF), it would put me at 66. Which would be good by normal people standards, but not by elite endurance sports standards, which I would think is 80+.

Interestingly, using the different math of both tests, my FTP calculation was basically the same...
 

WattsUp

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#15
Ha, we wouldn’t do very well racing against Malamute sled dogs or whatever.

My wife and kids thought I was a genius when, watching TV last week, I knew that turtles live a long time because they have a really slow heart rate (actually recall reading something from Asimov about that). Resting heart rate in the single digits!
 
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#17
I'd like to get the 23&me test done in the near future.
I've done a lot of genealogical DNA tests which have made me a bit of a DNA test addict.
With the tests I've done I could upload the DNA file to other 3rd party companies which did some health analysis.
Wasn't too much in those that I wasn't expecting.
My eye color prediction always comes out as blue but I'm more green/hazel... I guess being brought up in heavy sunlight in Australia may have something to do with it. My sister has blue eyes..
23&Me's test I think would be more thorough.
The genealogy tests have been quite accurate as far as I can tell.
I could prove there was no infidelity on my Y chromosome for at least 400 years!
Got a bit more Neanderthal and Denisovan in me that most people too....:alien:

How much was the 23&Me test? Were there many options to chose from? (will check it out)....
 

WattsUp

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#18
How much was the 23&Me test? Were there many options to chose from? (will check it out)....
Don't remember exactly how much it was, we did it maybe four years ago or so when we were living in London. I think it was like £99/person or something? At the time it was just one option, something like 'personal DNA test' or whatever. You can download your raw data and not only use it for other services (such as Toolbox Genomics), you can run it through https://promethease.com/ (I think it's like $20) that builds out an entire DNA report based on your personal data.
 

baribari

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#19
Dang, the clinic didn't actually have Vo2max testing... and it turns out I had an appointment at the end of the month from a year ago I had totally forgot about.

Now I wonder where I can actually do that test...
 
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