OLYMPIC athletes need to do more than train hard and take care of their bodies according to research from a Manchester Metropolitan University academic.
In the words of Dr Alun Williams, gold medal hopefuls “need to try and choose their parents wisely!”
Dr Williams, who is Reader in Sports and Exercise Genomics – the only person to hold that title in the UK - at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Cheshire faculty, based in Crewe, has been working on the subject in Kazan, in Russia, thanks to a research grant provided by the Royal Society.
He has just returned from the Symposium on Sports Genomics, in Brazil, where he met with academics from around the world to discuss the part that genetics play in the performance of elite athletes, and gave a lecture on “Genomics as a Practical Tool in Sport”.
He has been looking at the genetic makeup of elite athletes, focussing on those genes relating to muscular and cardiovascular performance.
The team found that not only is there a difference in the genes between athletes and non-athletes, but there are also differences between elite competitors and their lower-level colleagues.
“The research shows that to succeed in sports you have to do all the training, but it’s also partly down to the genes that you inherit from your mum and dad, so you need to try and choose your parents wisely!” said Dr Williams.
The split between the parts played by genetics and training is approximately 50/50 according to Dr Williams, however he adds that research into the area has only been taking place for a little over a decade and there is still much more to learn.
“The area of sports genomics is more complicated than we ever thought it would be,” he said.
However, even if your parents always came last in the mums and dads race on sports day, there is no reason to give up all hope of achieving great things in track and field.
“Genetics is a big part, but people tend not to focus on it because it is something they can’t change – unlike diet or exercise,” said Dr Williams. “But just because your parents are not elite athletes, that might not mean that you don’t carry the genetic material to be one.”
Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading university for the professions and a powerful driver of the North West economy.
The University educates and trains large numbers of the region’s legal and business professionals, scientists, engineers, teachers, health workers and creative professionals. It enjoys an excellent reputation for teaching and applied research and is a recognised innovator in partnership working with its local communities. The University is currently investing almost £300 million in its estate and facilities.
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