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genes vs. training: Science of Sport analysis

Ross Tucker at SoS has a couple of very well-argued, IMO, posts on the role of genetics vs. training in performance (he discusses both athletic performance as well as other kinds, e.g., playing the violin). In the earlier post he criticizes the notion, argued among others by popular writer Malcolm Gladwell in his best seller Outliers, that practice is the major factor in performance. In that book, Gladwell popularized the notion that 10,000 hours is the critical level of practice required to become expert or elite in some discipline. Ross points out that the original study supporting this idea never examined whether there might be some individual variation in this number, and he then discusses some work that shows that there is indeed enormous variation—that some people reach expert level with far less practice hours than others. In fact, swimming sensation Michael Phelps, who made an Olympic final just four years after beginning to train seriously, seems to be an outstanding example. Ross also cites evidence that training of any length cannot account for even 50% of the proficiency in certain abilities studied.

So what else besides training is important? Obviously, genes. Ross notes that those who push the importance of training like to point out that no single gene has ever been shown to have much effect on athletic performance. But this is not because genes are not important, but because genetics is complex—even a seemingly simple physical trait like height turns out to have literally hundreds of thousands of genes contributing to it (Note: I am using “gene” loosely here; all human beings have the same genes, what distinguishes one individual from any other is the variants of these genes. For example, we all have the gene for citrate synthase, a key enzyme in aerobic metabolism, but there may be many different variants of this gene. Each variant results from a change or mutation in a single nucleotide base in the DNA coding for this gene—known as a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP—and might result in an enzyme molecule with slightly different properties from those of another variant. SNPs are what DNA scans seek to identify, particularly those that may affect our susceptibility to certain diseases).

This enormous complexity frustrates attempts to use genetic tests to identify children who have exceptional ability in some sport or other activity at an early age. However, sometimes relatively few SNPs may make a major difference. Ross provides an example in discussing the evidence for differences in responders. He cites studies in which volunteers all underwent the same amount of training designed to raise their VO2 max. It turned out there was a huge range in the amount of VO2 increase, with those at one end of the spectrum only raising their VO2 max by 4%, while those at the other end raised it 40% with the same amount of training. Most individuals were somewhere in the middle.

Moreover, a set of 21 SNPs was identified which correlated with these differences. The high responders tended to have most of these 21 SNPs, while the low responders had fewer than half of them. An obvious conclusion is that elite athletes tend to be high responders to training. That is, in addition to having the right set of genes for high performance, their genes enable them to raise their base level much faster and further than the average.

Finally, to make this discussion more relevant to the Clinic (I tend to view the Clinic as the place to discuss all science in sport issues, even those not directly involving doping or other illicit practices), I will add that a study I cited here earlier (but don’t remember exactly where or when) suggested some variation in the response to EPO. It is a reasonable if yet unexamined hypothesis that there would be significant individual variation in the response to PES, just as there is variation in the response to training. This could pose another problem for the passport approach. It is possible, e.g., that two individuals who raise their HT by an equal amount would obtain significantly different power benefits, because of genetic (both direct and through training) differences in their ability to make use of the added oxygen. So not only could individuals respond differently to the same dose of a drug, but one might manifest a reduced spectrum of whatever physiological parameters are being used to detect the drug.

http://www.sportsscientists.com/
 
Mar 11, 2009
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Merckx index said:
Ross Tucker at SoS has a couple of very well-argued, IMO, posts on the role of genetics vs. training in performance (he discusses both athletic performance as well as other kinds, e.g., playing the violin). snip
http://www.sportsscientists.com/

Yes, genetics and training are both important.
But what about a genetically strong person who does not like to train?

Are there some "lazy monkeys" in the peloton that could benefit from the treatment described in the article linked below?
Won't mention any names.
Maybe some forum members could benefit too lol.

Dr Barry Richmond said:
"The monkeys under the influence of the treatment don't procrastinate."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3557310.stm
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Jul 9, 2009
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Polish said:
Yes, genetics and training are both important.
But what about a genetically strong person who does not like to train?

Are there some "lazy monkeys" in the peloton that could benefit from the treatment described in the article linked below?
Won't mention any names.
Maybe some forum members could benefit too lol.



http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3557310.stm
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I am sure the Pro Tour is full of guys who are too lazy to train properly.:rolleyes:

In reality the Pro Tour Peloton consists of
1. The best genetic specimens.
2. Who are also the hardest workers.
3. And avail themselves of the best and most up to date doping practices.
 
May 26, 2010
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Merckx index said:
Ross Tucker at SoS has a couple of very well-argued, IMO, posts on the role of genetics vs. training in performance (he discusses both athletic performance as well as other kinds, e.g., playing the violin). In the earlier post he criticizes the notion, argued among others by popular writer Malcolm Gladwell in his best seller Outliers, that practice is the major factor in performance. In that book, Gladwell popularized the notion that 10,000 hours is the critical level of practice required to become expert or elite in some discipline. Ross points out that the original study supporting this idea never examined whether there might be some individual variation in this number, and he then discusses some work that shows that there is indeed enormous variation—that some people reach expert level with far less practice hours than others. In fact, swimming sensation Michael Phelps, who made an Olympic final just four years after beginning to train seriously, seems to be an outstanding example. Ross also cites evidence that training of any length cannot account for even 50% of the proficiency in certain abilities studied.
I read an article on this in the guardian where he made the arguments for the Beatles, 10k hours playing in Hamburg, Bill Gates 10K hours in his garage etc....it is doubtful that this magical 10k is the deciding factor on success.

I doubt riders like Armstrong reached this magical number in training. He may have reached it in PEDs consumed though.:rolleyes:
 
Benotti69 said:
I doubt riders like Armstrong reached this magical number in training. He may have reached it in PEDs consumed though.:rolleyes:
SoS could be interpreted to provide some indirect support for a long-held contention in this forum: that traditionally, multiple Tour winners have shown GT potential at an early age, generally before they turn 25 (and that since LA does not fit this pattern, this adds to suspicion over his results). Tucker's analysis suggests that in addition to having a base level of performance that is superior to others, elites or experts also improve faster and further than normal with practice. If this is the case--and i'm not saying it's proven that it always is, but it seems likely that it usually would be--then it would be very difficult for a rider to reach the elite level if he did not demonstrate this rapid improvement very early in his career. (Though I suppose LA supporters could argue he wasn't really fully dedicated to training until post-cancer).

I found this notion quite surprising. I always assumed the difference between, say, me and some elite rider is that if neither of us had any training, the elite rider would ride much faster than I. This is certainly going to be the case. But it seems to be also the case that if we both go through the same training schedule, his improvement above and beyond his pre-existing base advantage is going to widen the gap further. That is not intuitively obvious to me, but the fact that there is such huge variation in response to training suggests that if you are not one of the outliers in training response, as well as in base performance, you probably aren't going to be in the elite. Presumably you have to be in the extreme in both aspects.

This also supports the notion that there are athletes who can perform very well with relatively little practice (Allen Iversen comes to mind), and that there are others who work extremely hard and don't have a lot to show for it. It could also provide an explanation for athletes who show enormous promise early in life, but ultimately disappoint. While there obviously could be other explanations, these could be individuals who have an unusually good genetic base, but do not respond particularly well to training, or vice-versa.
 
Aug 6, 2009
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Hugh Januss said:
In reality the Pro Tour Peloton consists of
1. The best genetic specimens.
The best genetic specimens from a very limited pool.

Cycling being a niche sport doesn't lend itself to those who are the most gifted.

It lends itself to those who are the most gifted who also have access to what is a very expensive sport.
 
Aug 4, 2010
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hundreds of thousands of genes?

1.) The Human Genome is around 25000 genes
2.) Malcolm Gladwell said "excellence at a complex task requires a minimum level of practice, and experts have settled on 10,000 hours as the magic number for true expertise." I am not sure if expertise and physical performance are the same thing. Riding with junior racers who are strong AND uncoordinated on the bike have left many lasting scars on this and probably other riders.
3.) It could be one variant on one gene, right now the evidence is weak but growing. …"“What our company does is try to provide athletes the knowledge . . . that they could weave into their training,” Kovach says. “We report on genes that have been tested and shown to have a correlation with injury.”

The genes tested by Athleticode primarily code for variants of collagen, proteins in connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments. Sequence variants within COL5A1, for example, which encodes an alpha chain of type V collagen, have been linked to a higher risk of ACL injuries in females. Similarly, female athletes with an AA genotype at a specific locus in the COL12A1 collagen gene (like the allele Kovach carries) have a higher likelihood of ACL ruptures. And certain variants in MMP3, a gene which encodes an enzyme of the matrix metalloproteinase family involved in tissue remodeling, are associated with chronic Achilles tendinopathy, a degenerative condition of the Achilles tendon, as well as with ACL injuries.

As with most genetic risk factors, however, “it’s very difficult, from a service point of view, to [be] conclusive,” says biochemist and molecular biologist Malcolm Collins of the Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Collins led the genetic studies on MMP3’s link to Achilles tendinopathy and ACL injuries, but cautions that while “we’re getting more and more convinced that our association is correct… the evidence is, at best, weak at the moment.”"

4.) Drug interactions with differing genotypes is getting better understood, Nature has a whole journal on it. http://www.nature.com/tpj/index.html

5.) http://www.scienceofsport.com needs to act more scientific, and provide references for their conclusions.

6>) Merckx index, I believe you missed his conclusion, which it is "...but I'll leave it with my ultimate conclusion. To become an Olympic champion, the very best of the best, you need to tick the boxes. Genes is without a doubt one of those boxes. But so too are opportunities. And so is success genetics or training? It's both. In fact, it's 100% genetic, and 100% training."
 
The response to training is not surprising to me. Being able to recover is a huge factor, so the regulatory/signaling systems that leads to adjustments in hGH, testosterone, cortisol, etc. are obviously important, too.

Through my work I have had the opportunity to explore some of the signaling pathways relevant to cancer which are linked (or exactly the same) as pathways activated in response to exercise. (Before you latch on to this Polish, this is NOT the reason Lance is so awesome)

The "memory" of cells in terms of the proteins (receptors, enzymes, transporters) that are present is incredibly complex. Twins might have the same genome, but their patterns of exercise (intensity, time of day, duration) could lead to completely different levels of expression, activation states that one of them could completely outshine the other in a given discipline.
 
Jun 8, 2010
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purenoiz said:
1.)
6>) Merckx index, I believe you missed his conclusion, which it is "...but I'll leave it with my ultimate conclusion. To become an Olympic champion, the very best of the best, you need to tick the boxes. Genes is without a doubt one of those boxes. But so too are opportunities. And so is success genetics or training? It's both. In fact, it's 100% genetic, and 100% training."
among the best models for this interaction is due to Flynn in the context of IQ (a general piece by him is here http://www.psychometrics.cam.ac.uk/page/125/flynn-8-basketball.htm). Flynn is famous for work showing that there are large intergenerational increases in IQ, and yet IQ is regarded as highly heritable. He models the interaction between environments and genes with a simple assumption: those who have an even a modest advantage for a particular trait initially will become matched with superior environments for that trait and this provides a feedback loop between genes and environment that increases over time, what they call individual multipliers.

A great example of this in sports is probably Taylor Phinney. He begins with some genetic advantage, perhaps small, but then is matched via his parent's knowledge and interests to superior training environments that begin a powerful feedback process over time.

While identifying genes is important, one component that is emerging from studies of cognitive capacity is the structure of learning environments that leverage latent cognitive plasticity. It is now well-established that there are learning paradigms that can utilize latent neural plasticity and teach skills that were formerly thought to be fixed (such as learning non-native phonetic contrasts to adult speakers). Video games also increase visual processing skills that are impossible otherwise. It's likely that training regimes in athletic performance are largely unexplored in terms of optimizing adaptations.
 
Jun 27, 2009
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Hugh Januss said:
In reality the Pro Tour Peloton consists of
1. The best genetic specimens.
2. Who are also the hardest workers.
3. And avail themselves of the best and most up to date doping practices.
One thing that is patently obvious now, but probably isn't obvious to newbies, is that doping and hard work GO TOGETHER. One of the main goals behind doping in cycling is to recover faster, so you can train harder and train more. So the dude that trains the hardest is also a dude who will benefit immensely from doping.
 
Hugh Januss said:
I am sure the Pro Tour is full of guys who are too lazy to train properly.:rolleyes:

In reality the Pro Tour Peloton consists of
1. The best genetic specimens.
2. Who are also the hardest workers.
3. And avail themselves of the best and most up to date doping practices.
So basically you are saying that the winners are the best responders? everything else being similar.

So again, it depends on genetics also.:)

BTW, great read Merkx. Thanks.
 

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