Editorial Article

Effect of Nutrigenetics in Athletic Performance

Korkut Ulucan
1Marmara University, Faculty of Dentistry, Department of Medical Biology and Genetics, Istanbul, Turkey
2Uskudar University, Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Istanbul, Turkey
*Corresponding author:

Korkut Ulcan, Marmara University, Faculty of Dentistry, Department of Medical Biology and Genetics, Istanbul, Turkey, Email: korkutulucan@hotmail.com


Sports genetics, Nutrigenetics, Exercise biology, Obesity and Personalized medicine

Nutrigenomics, or in other words, nutritional genomics, is the branch of molecular genetics examining the effect of foods on our genes and how individual genetic endowment can effect the way we respond to nutrients in the foods we eat. If we focus on a certain gene in a certain metabolism, then we can use the term nutrigenetics. For example the genes encoding the proteins or enzymes responsible for synthesizing Vitamin D, carrying it through circulation or absorbing it from intestines and blood are all in scope of nutrigenomics. By the information we gained by Human Genome Project, nutrigenomics has received much attention because of its potential for diagnosing, preventing, or treating different diseases through small but highly informative dietary changes.

The main purpose of nutrigenomics may be to prevent chronic diseases before they appear, or try to decrease the severity of the diseases by the help of the information in our genomes. Depending on the variation in our genomes, called as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), individuals can switch to personal nutrition, to avoid the harmful effects of some nutrients which can alter the expression of some genes that are likely to play a role in the onset and progression of some chronic diseases.

Not only on preventing, or delaying some kinds of chronic diseases, nutrigenomics also have important roles on development, and on sports performance. The best example of nutrigenetics on preventing diseases on development is the 5,10- methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene. This gene is responsible for converting 5, 10  methylenetetrahydrofolate to 5- methyltetrahydrofolate, especially in folic acid metabolism (1). Folic acids are very important molecules especially in avoiding neural tube defects, and should be taked care during pregnancy. Resulting  5- methyltetrahydrofolate is a good methyl supplier for many metabolic activities, including the synthesis of nucleotides and amino acids. This gene has an important SNP in position 677, cytosine to thymine transition (C677T). This variation leads to a change in enzyme structure; the variated enzyme decreases its metabolic rate as 10%. In this case, to avoid cellular toxity, decreased amount of folic acid may be offered to the individuals with TT genotype.

Like MTHFR we mentioned, there are a number of genes that effect our nutritional metabolism important for athletic performance. Genes like ACE, PPARG and ADRB2 give great information about individual’s carbohydrate sensitivity. The reason that too many people gain weight by not consuming enough carbohydrates is hidden in these genes, in SNPs found in these genes. Not only in carbohydrate metabolism, there are also some SNPs on some genes that effect lipid metabolism. These SNPs are suggested to act as weight gaining polymorphisms, therefore it is important to have knowledge about these SNPs to overcome weight problems, or avoid obesity, by making right exercise and having personal dietary behaviors.

Like nutrigenetics, sports genetics also depend on the individuals’ related SNPs (2). These SNPs effects individuals’ physiological properties. It is a known fact that personal traits like hard-working, discipline, self and high motivation are some of the important factors that should be found in successful players or athletes regardless to the nature of the sport they involve. But it is hard to judge the impact of genetic factors on athletic performance, there are many studies showing the strong association between genetics and athletic performance. And the most important environmental effect is the nutrition of athletes.  For example vitamin D metabolism is very important for athletes, or other individuals in different sports types. Vitamin D is essential for proper muscle and bone development, and for avoiding injuries. Receptor molecule, VDR, is a nuclear receptor, and is a polymorphic molecule. Some of these SNPs effect the expression levels of the receptor, therefore effects the vitamin D metabolism, and muscle and bone development in individuals. 

Like vitamin D, vitamin B and C metabolisms are also important for muscle metabolism. For contracting of the muscles, also for detoxifying the muscle cells after a severe aerobic metabolism, all of the above mentioned vitamins are all essential. So keeping these molecules amount in constant is very important for muscle performance. For athletes, to switch to personal nutrition to have the most high nutritional impact on performance will be supplied with the improvements in nutrigenetics.

We can extend the number of examples in nutritional genomics. Molecular technology in improving and with the help of the bioinformatics, within 10 years, it going to be possible for people to have a nutritional behavior depending on genetic endowment for a better life, longevity, and for better athletic performance.

1.     Ulucan K, Karahan M, Saglam E. Biochemical and molecular effects of folic acid metabolism to Parkinson, Alzheimer, bipolar and schizophrenic diseases. Anatolian Journal of Psychiatry 2013; 14:378-382.
2.     Ulucan K, Bayyurt GM, Konuk M, Güney AI. Effect of alpha-actinin-3 gene on Turkish trained and untrained middle school children’s sprinting performance: a pilot study. Biological RhythmResearch,doi: 10.1080/09291016.2013.867628,2014.

Published: 17 November 2015


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