British 800 metres runner Jenny Meadows is using a revolutionary DNA test designed to prevent injury and improve her performance ahead of the Commonwealth Games – and a trio of leading European football teams are to follow her lead.
The test is a brainchild of London-based company DNAFit, which obtains genetic profiles – using a simple mouth swab – to identify genes that make athletes prone to certain injuries. It can also ensure they can tailor a programme of training and nutrition to fit their DNA. Meadows, a world indoor silver medallist in the 800m in 2010, became the first athlete to publicly reveal the secrets of her DNA yesterday.
“I only wish I’d had this information years ago,” said Meadows, who has discovered she has the gene that makes her prone to the kind of tendon injuries that forced her to miss the London Olympics in 2012. “To get to the top as an athlete, it takes a combination of hard work, luck and timing. But if I’d known my genetic strengths and weaknesses I could have trained more effectively.”
Dr Keith Grimaldi, DNAFit’s chief scientific officer, said that two English Premier League teams and another leading club in Europe have also commissioned genetic profiles of their players – but can’t be named for confidentiality reasons.
“The idea of having knowledge of genetic variation is such that we can give personalised advice on training programs and nutrition and give an idea of any increased risk of tendon injury, if there is any, so that preventative measures can be taken,” Grimaldi said.
The DNA test revealed to Meadows that she has an even split of power and endurance, making her ideally suited for 800m instead of 400, and that the potential of her sustaining a sports-related soft-tissue injury was high, causing her to make changes to her training schedules that included reducing her running sessions and doing more cardio work on a bike. It also told her that her recovery times were quicker than average. In winning the 800m in Prague last month in 2 minutes, 1.67 seconds, she is among the top six in the world this year.
Grimaldi added that the test could help football teams going to the World Cup know which players are more at risk of sunstroke or sunburn, for example. “The genetic variants are very common,” he said. “There’s no hint of any bad news in the results. The only thing you can get out of the result is useful and important to know.”