Genetics, supplementation, and sports: What do we know so far?

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Undefined
Getty Images / Undefined

Related tags: personalized nutrition, Sports nutrition, athletes

There’s a lot of misuse of science when it comes to marketing personalized nutrition for athletic performance, according to one leading researcher in the field.
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Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy is a Full Professor at the University of Toronto and has held a Canada Research Chair in Nutrigenomics.

The problem is, there are widespread misconceptions around genetic testing, especially about what it can and cannot tell you, said Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor of nutritional science at the University of Toronto in Canada and founder of Nutrigenomix​, a company that provides genetic testing related to nutrition.

As a researcher, he studies how people’s genes influence their bodies’ reactions to foods and diets.

His work also explores how diet and nutrition affects athletic performance. Last March, The New York Times wrote about his research​ on caffeine metabolism and how it may help some people as a pre-workout, while other people may receive no benefit at all, and some others even performed worse. It all depends on the genes.

One example of a misconception: “There’s a very well-known gene that is found in a specific form among power athletes compared to endurance athletes. There are a number of companies that give people that genetic information and tell them you’re better off doing more endurance or power sports because that’s what you’re naturally going to excel in,”​ he told us.

But he added that these recommendations “really have no basis.”

“There’s no evidence at all that just because power athletes are more likely to have it, does not mean that’s the kind of sport you should be doing. One could even argue you should be doing the opposite kind to compensate for what you’re naturally gifted in doing.”

Rethinking how we look at placebo-controlled trials

Dr. El-Sohemy will be speaking at the upcoming Sports Nutrition Summit hosted by NutraIngredients-USA​ at the San Diego Marriott Del Mar in January 23 and 24, 2019.

At the summit, Dr. El-Sohemy will be focusing on genetic testing and the opportunities for enhancing athletic performance.

So how do we correct the misconceptions? And what opportunities are actually available to sports nutrition formulators and supplement companies?

With the knowledge of genetics and the technology we have now, Dr. El-Sohemy said, “the gates are now wide open, we basically have to re-examine all we’ve ever looked at in terms of supplements and performance.”

Typically, researchers have looked at group averages. “You look at one group with active substance and the other with a placebo, and you’ll see the average of one group perform better than the other,”​ he said.

“But if you look at individual responses, you often see a very different story. In a group that received the intervention, there might be some people that really respond well, and that’s pushing the average up, and there are some that are not responding too much or some responding in the opposite direction.

“We can’t just look at group averages anymore. We’re moving towards precision nutrition and targeted approaches. This is where there’s a lot of potential for genetics.”

Learn more about Dr. El-Sohemy's research at our upcoming Sports Nutrition Summit

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The inaugural NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition Summit​, in association with the International Society of Sports Nutrition, will bring together leading scientists, brands and retailers, market analysts, and innovators in a unique, market-leading face-to-face event. 

The key themes of this event include: 

- The “size of the prize”
- The power and importance of social media
- Positioning and differentiation
- Sports nutrition and the military - product use survey data and enhancing the performance of Warfighters
- The State of the Science: Sports, fitness and exercise Nutrition
- Sports Nutrition products and Elite Athletes 
- Alphabet soup: Everything brands need to know about GMPs, NDIs, AERs, DASCA, SARMs…
- Bacterial boosts – The microbiome and sports
- Personalization and the digital revolution
- Nootropics & sports nutrition

Register now to make sure you are there!

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