DNA Testing for Sports Performance

dna testing for sports performance

There is no doubt that for each of us, the ability to manifest ourselves in a particular sport can vary significantly. Someone feels good in a marathon and someone in a sprint. Of course, with regular training, we can develop any ability in ourselves, but the degree of development will not always depend on perseverance and discipline. The biological differences due to genetics associated with the manifestation of physical qualities, their reaction to the training effect, most often determine the maximum that we can achieve as a result. Science studies these relationships – between our features and our capabilities, gradually accumulating and systematizing the knowledge gained. This is how DNA testing for sports performance appeared.

Importance of Tests for Genetic Predisposition to Sports

However, already now, we are faced with the existence of the commercial service “DNA testing for sports performance.”

Have all the questions already been answered, and can one so easily determine one’s objective abilities for development in a particular sport? Whether this is necessary for most visitors to fitness clubs, in general, is another question.

I think that people are engaged in fitness clearly not in order to reveal their talents in specific sports and devote their lives to them. And if an individual who wants to put his form in order finds out that he will not be able to fulfill the standard of a master of sports in powerlifting, then he certainly will not be upset, since he did not have such goals.

Now we are more interested in the question of how objective the above-mentioned test and the like are.

Scientific Evidence on the Genetics in Sports

genetic testing for sports performance

So, what does science say about this, and not the industry selling these services, which we have reason to not trust because of commercial interest.

2015 DNA Testing for Sports Performance Researches

The science of the study of genetic / physical/sports activities is a new young area of ​​research. And the scientific results that could confirm the probability of predicting sports abilities and achievements of people based on studies of the genetic code are very limited, and this makes it possible to say that, in fact, there is no reason for this yet. In the scientific community, between scientists researching the influence of genetics on sports, there is a general opinion that with a lack of convincing evidence, the importance of checking the genetically determined predisposition of children to any type of sports is in itself unimportant:

  • when trying to determine the predisposition of a child to practice a particular sport;
  • when creating an extremely successful training program (based on individual data of the genetic code).

Given the above, at the moment, the current level of knowledge is not sufficient to reliably identify the genetic predisposition of a particular child or young athlete to one or another type of physical activity and to use these data to develop recommendations for adjusting an existing training program, and therefore this kind of marketing genetic tests shall not be carried out for the indicated purposes. [1]

In the same year, in the publication of Russian scientists, one can hear the same words about the lack of experimental data to create practical recommendations:

“… Future research, including multicenter GWAS (genome-wide associative research), whole-genome sequencing, epigenetic, transcriptome, proteomic and metabolic profiling, and meta-analysis in large cohorts of athletes, is necessary before these results can be extended to practice in sports. ” [6]

2017 Researches

genetic testing for athletic performance

DNA testing for sports performance has proven its worth in clinical medicine practice. However, at present, there is no scientific basis for using genetic testing to improve athletic performance, athletic selection, or identify talent. Athletes and trainers should refrain from using genetic testing directly on the consumer because of their insufficient validation and reproducibility, as well as the lack of the participation of a practitioner in this process. [2]

Over the past two decades, research has focused on trying to understand the genetic effects on athletic performance. This has led to the identification of a number of candidate genes that can help differentiate elite and non-elite athletes.

One of the most promising genes in this regard is ACTN3, which is commonly referred to as the “speed gene.” Recent studies have examined the effect of this gene on other performance phenotypes, including adaptation to physical activity, recovery of exercise, and the risk of sports injuries.

However, it is important to consider the limitations associated with many of these studies. The number of subjects in the studies under study tended to decrease, while there was a great heterogeneity between the studied cohorts, from untrained subjects to professional athletes, as well as differences in sexual composition. Both of these aspects will influence the results of the study. The effect of this polymorphism may be less in untrained subjects, for example, while in elite, well-trained athletes, who are probably closer to their genetic ceiling, the effect may be greater.

There are currently no best practice guidelines regarding the use of genetic information in both high-end sports and the general public. However, sports teams have been using genetic information for over 10 years and continue to do so. Therefore, the development of these guidelines is an important step from the laboratory to practice. Obviously, further research is needed to fully develop these guidelines, and this information is currently speculative. [7]

2018 DNA Testing for Sports Performance Studies

The authors emphasize the potential benefits of genetic testing and identifying appropriate markers in identifying talents, but further work is needed for practical implementation: “Research in this area can be used to determine whether a particular genotype allows athletes to better perform and respond to specific training stimuli, which allows us to get a better understanding of training specifications. Therefore, further research should be aimed at studying how the athlete’s genotype can influence the results of training and adaptation.” (5)

2019 Studies

genetic testing for predicting sports performance and talent identification

Although there is a well-established effect of genetics on achieving the elite status of an athlete, based on the available evidence, it is obvious that the current use of genetic tests to predict the future elite status of an athlete is ineffective.

Despite the growing availability of commercial DTC genetic tests, current evidence suggests that using the information provided by these tests to identify or select talent, especially in children, is unreasonable.

In order to be able to use genetic information in the process of identifying talents, it is necessary both to detect and reproduce in subsequent studies a much larger number of polymorphisms that increase work efficiency.

Future research in elite athletes should include detailed information on phenotypes associated with athletic performance, combined with obtaining samples, such as blood or muscle tissue, that help to identify the link between genetics and epigenetics.

Since the status of an elite athlete is a manifestation of a number of variables and not just the genotype, it seems unlikely that it will ever be possible to use genetic information to uniquely identify a future elite athlete.

In the best case, genetic information can be a potentially useful addition to existing procedures for identifying talents, enhancing the selection process. [3]

In the same work, examples are given of studies that have shown that only a small proportion of leading athletes have the “ideal” genotype of an elite athlete. This does not abolish the presence of genetic inclinations, but only indicates an incomplete picture for objective testing: “a much greater number of polymorphisms associated with the elite status of an athlete should be detected, and then combined into a complex model of genetic testing.

In support of this, a recent review by Russian scientists reports that at least 155 genetic markers are potentially associated with elite status as an athlete, at least in some cohorts or ethnic groups. [4]

DNA test

The Bottom Line under DNA Testing for Sports Performance

Of course, genetic testing can potentially be useful, especially in terms of obtaining information about the optimal planning of the training process. However, it is premature to say that now it can be effectively implemented, despite the fact that a certain practice has already developed.

Modern science believes that it is premature to transfer the available information to the creation of specific recommendations, both to determine the potential in sports and to draw up training programs.


  1. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing for predicting sports performance and talent identification: Consensus statement. Webborn N et al. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Dec;49(23):1486-91. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095343
  2. Ethics of Genetic Testing and Research in Sport: A Position Statement From the Australian Institute of Sport. Nicole Vlahovich et al. Br J Sports Med. Jan 2017
  3. Can Genetic Testing Identify Talent for Sport? Review. Craig Pickering, John Kiely, Jozo Grgic, Alejandro Lucia and Juan Del Coso. Genes 2019, 10(12), 972.
  4. Гены и спортивная работоспособность: обновление. Ахметов, И. И., Егорова, Е. С., Габдрахманова, Л. Я., Федотовская, О. Н. Мед. Спортивные Науки. 2016, 61, 41–54.
  5. The Potential Role of Genetic Markers in Talent Identification and Athlete Assessment in Elite Sport. Ysabel Jacob Tania Spiteri Nicolas H. Hart and Ryan S. Anderton. Sports (Basel). 2018 Sep; 6(3): 88.
  6. Современные достижения в области спортивной геномики. Ахметов И.И., Федотовская Н.А. Adv Clin Chem. 2015;70:247-314
  7. ACTN3: More than Just a Gene for Speed. Craig Pickering and John Kiely. Front Physiol. 2017; 8: 1080.

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