Steele was only recently retrospectively awarded a bronze medal denied him and his three team mates in the 4x400m relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after retesting banned a Russian and his team that took third at the time.
So the potential of better nutrition to help performance – cleanly – is inspiring to the man from Lancashire. But it is not just elite athletes benefitting from the nutrigenomics at the base of the DNAFit business where he heads product development – the firm has already advised 30,000 amateur athletes and is pushing for personalised sports nutrition to go even broader, challenging the food industry to take it seriously.
NutraIngredients sat down with Steele to get a feel for the kind of meal that forms this deal.
What kind of reaction have you had from pros and pro teams?
“We work on a relatively small basis in professional sport, including 5-6 premier league football teams and four large European clubs, along with some individual athletes.”
What about the health & fitness community?
“This is our biggest market, the consumer who is starting to get fit or eat better, or the passionate fitness enthusiast.”
Who is your main competitor?
“There are a number of competitors on the market now [like FitnessGenes – ed.] but I am pleased to say we were the first doing this on a meaningful basis and continue to lead the market thanks to our research-led approach.”
There are a few staple nutrients in sports nutrition – caffeine, protein, creatine, carbbohydrates etc variously for power, endurance, energy, recovery – how does genetic mapping shift this?
“Genetic testing doesn’t change the principles on sports nutrition, which is that certain nutrients will, on average, improve exercise performance or recovery. What we do know is that there is a large individual variation in the response of an individual in terms of improvements following supplementation; some people will see a big improvement, some people will see no improvement, and some people will actually see negative effects with some of these nutrients.
“Genetic testing gives us the potential to determine who these responders and non-responders will be, so that we can personalise their sports nutrition. This can be done by altering the timing or dose of a nutrient. At the moment the research is best for caffeine but also vitamin D; we know that a number of genes impact how much of an increase someone will see with vitamin D supplementation.
“If we expect them to see a small increase, we can give them a higher dose. Similarly, there are genes which impact stress fracture risk; if we find someone has a higher risk, we can increase their vitamin D and calcium intake.”
So there really is enough genetic variety?
“There is a huge amount of variety even if we just look at one gene, called CYP1A2, and caffeine. CYP1A2 is responsible for metabolising caffeine in the body, and we can separate people into two groups; fast metabolisers and slow metabolisers.”
“When taking caffeine before exercise fast metabolisers tend to see a much greater performance enhancing effect of caffeine compared to slow metabolisers. In fact, in one study, slow metabolisers actually had a worse exercise performance with caffeine than when they consumed placebo.”
Does it open the door to new nutrients in sports nutrition?
“I don’t think it opens the door to new nutrients but I do think it means we can make many more personalised recommendations to people. Whilst we might typically see that a nutrient improves performance – like caffeine or creatine – this isn’t true for everyone – so we can personalise the dose for each person.”
How does the system actually work?
“We report on 45-50 of the most researched gene variants that have a link to exercise or nutrition response. From these we provide a report on the individual to help them use this data to make better informed decisions about their fitness and nutrition choices. Tests range from £99 (€116) to £249 (€351).”
How is results accuracy guaranteed?
“Our lab operates in the accordance with ISO/IEC 17025:2000 and has very strict quality controls in place such as running multiple control samples with every single batch.
Before a gene is included in our report it must pass a strict research protocol as follows:
- Every variant must be shown in multiple published peer-review studies to be relevant to the section in which we report it
- These must be on human studies only
- There must be an easily modifiable lifestyle/environment change a user can take based on the result.”
Are sales coming from beyond the UK?
“Yes, we see a very large amount of our sales coming from international territories and we have distributors on the ground in 23 foreign countries.”
Find out more about Steele's presentation and attending FoodVision here.