I Don’t Hate Marathons, My DNA Does

I hate distance running. Anything over a mile and I’m out. And I’m tired of hearing from people who love it that I just have to stick with it a little longer until I can enjoy it.

If only there was some science I could point to in order to prove that I’m not just lazy.

Wait, there is? Sign me up!

DNAFit to the rescue

A British company called DNAFit promised to provide me with detailed analysis of my genetic makeup to help me decide what diet and exercise regime is best for my body. My hope was that they would finally shed some light on why so many people can train for a half-marathon while I struggle to get to that 5,280th foot.

A little about myself to start: I’m fairly active, which means that I swim 3-4 times a week and play soccer/spikeball/basketball with my friends about once a week. I’m not very good at any of those three sports, so I’m not sure why they are my hobby of choice at the moment. I was a decent baseball player and would call myself an above average softball player (the old man version of baseball). Why I excel at certain sports will make a lot of sense when we look at my DNA results.

As far as dieting goes, I don’t cook much and I almost never go grocery shopping, which means I eat at a lot of restaurants and not a lot of healthy ones.

So here were my hypotheses about myself before receiving my DNAFit results:

  • I’m not a person with a high endurance potential. I enjoy sprints (swimming or running) way more than distance running or swimming.
  • I take longer to recover after a workout than most people
  • I’m at a high risk for injury
  • I’m a fast metabolizer of caffeine and alcohol
  • I’m Lactose Tolerant
  • I’m on the low scale of Carbohydrate Sensitivity

How it works

For the test I received a package from DNAFit (coolest packaging I’ve ever seen) and swabbed my cheek with a Q-Tip and mailed it off to England.* After a few weeks, DNAFit sent me my results. But I’m no genetic expert, nutritionist, or elite athlete so I needed some help with the explanation of the report. Luckily DNAFit set up a phone call with former British Olympic sprinter and bobsleigher Craig Pickering to explain my report.

“I used to train everyday as an athlete, so I had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn’t with my body [before DNAFit],” says Pickering. “This takes out the trial and error period, so if I had taken this test when I was 18 I would have found out things that I didn’t learn until I was 25 or 26.”

Pickering walked me through the report and explained each area to me and how each finding should affect the way I live my life.

It’s important to note that each finding is based on my genetic predispositions, not on how I actually treat my body daily. For example, I need more Vitamin D than the average person. So even if I was taking a Vitamin D supplement everyday and spending all day in the sun, I would still be genetically predisposed to need more Vitamin D than the average person. Essentially these are all just warning signs to make sure that I treat my body the way it’s designed to be treated, not the way everyone else treats theirs.

So here’s what I got right

  • I’m 72.4% Power Potential, meaning that I benefit more from sprinting or power lifting than I would from distance running or cycling. Or specifically for me, I’m better at hitting a baseball and sprinting to first than I am at running around a soccer field for long periods at a time.
  • I’m at a “high” risk for injury, not a “very high.” These injuries mostly include tendon and ligament injuries or a risk for osteoarthritis later in life. Which explains that sprained ankle playing dodgeball a few years ago and those two wrist surgeries last year.
  • I’m a fast metabolizer of caffeine and alcohol. I also have the gene that can react with a moderate amount of alcohol to benefit cholesterol. Meaning I can drink an afternoon cup of coffee without it keeping me awake and jittery all night.
  • I’m lactose tolerant. Those of Northern European descent carry the genes to be able to drink animal milk, while most people of other descent do not. I have one gene of lactose tolerance, and one that is not tolerant. This means that one of my ancestors is not of Northern European descent. My great-great grandmother was a Choctaw Indian. It’s fascinating that that gene has carried through the generations.

And here are the surprises

  • I actually recover faster than most people. I thought that wouldn’t go with someone who is at a high risk for injury, but Pickering says that is fairly common. The recovery is more related to inflammation in the muscles than injuries to tendons and ligaments. So maybe I should step my workouts up to 6 days a week…Yeah right.
  • I’m actually highly sensitive to carbohydrates. This is bad news…I eat carbs in probably every meal. Oops. Bread is so good. Seriously, how do people live without it?

The results

Confirming things I already knew about myself was oddly reassuring, spurring me to actually do those things more. Often times I’ve felt lazy saying that I hate running long distances, but to know that I’m genetically predisposed to benefit more from power activities encouraged me to actually do those workouts.

Recently I watched my fiancé run in a half marathon and it didn’t bother me at all watching thousands of people accomplish something that I probably never will.

And finding out some things about my diet, like a carbohydrate sensitivity, has encouraged me to watch my carb intake. It’s been tough, but I know it will benefit me.

Overall, the DNAFit report has been hugely beneficial to me, even as I just begin to digest all the information. It’s much more detailed than what I’ve outlined here and covers a range of information regarding diet and exercise. It even gives percentages of what I should be consuming daily. I’m going to do my best to follow these guidelines in the future.

If you want to check out DNAFit yourself, the premium test (which I took) is $239 and the lite version is $189. It may be a steep price, but if it saves you at least a decade of trial and error and puts you on the road to health it can be well worth the cost.

*The lady at the post office was very uncomfortable handling a package with my DNA. I asked why and she said that it might be opened by someone. She then said, “You don’t want a bunch of kids around the world or anything.” It was at this point that I realized something…She either had a gross misunderstanding of how babies are made, or she thought she was handling a package with some very gross material in it. It was too late to explain that I just swabbed my cheek with the Q-Tip. Sorry post office lady.
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