How genetics affects your running potential

[00:00:00] I’ve touched on this before in other episodes, but today I want to talk about the elephant in the room, and that is how do your genetics affect your running potential?

[00:00:21] As always, if you haven’t been here on the channel before with me, I’m Jesse Funk. This is a show I call Runner’s High where we talk about everything running and endurance related. So if that’s up your alley, hit that subscribe button over there on the right hand corner. Stick with me for more episodes every Tuesday and Thursday.

[00:00:38] Now, I think it’s important we talk about the elephant in the room, and that is our genetic potential. Right? So there’s this ceiling on all of us based on who we are, something we can’t control. And it is an unfortunate reality that we all have to deal with at one time or another.

[00:00:59] Now, if you’re a young athlete watching this and you are just getting started, watch this. But I would say watch it with a grain of salt, because don’t let it be a limiting factor in figuring out how far you can go. Let your enthusiasm for the sport determine how far you can go. For those of us who are older and are OK accepting that there may be some limit or like in my case one to find out what that limit actually is. This is the episode for you.

[00:01:31] So one of the things that you should know right off the bat is one of the big factors in long distance races is going to be something that we don’t really talk about but is seemingly addressed all of the time. And that is our electrolyte needs. That’s why we at Solpri have developed a series of sports drinks we’re calling SYNC to deal with that genetic potential.

[00:01:56] What am I talking about?

[00:01:58] That we all sweat different amounts of electrolytes based on our genetics? It ranges sometimes up to ten times more in one person than another. So if you want to check that out, I’m going to talk more about it later on in the video. But Solpri.com/shop I’ll have a direct link to that product page in the description. 

[00:02:18] But let’s talk about some of the other genetic factors and one of those that you’re probably a little more concerned with, something that you can’t control, unlike that drink, unlike that fueling situation, is going to be VO2 max, right? So we largely think about VO2 max as this is what determines how good of a runner we are. Vo2 max is actually somewhat trainable.

But we do know from research that our potential or ceiling of VO2 max, that is the ability for us to use oxygen and turn it into fuel to shortcut the whole process. For us to use oxygen to go faster is 50% inheritable, meaning that potential, half of that potential we get from our parents, something that we can’t control. But if you think about that statistic, it’s actually somewhat encouraging because it is trainable.

[00:03:18] There is some potential outside of our genetics where we know that, yeah, maybe I got some kind of a bad car, but hey, there is some train ability here. Or maybe on the flip side you got a really good hand, but it’s also still trainable and you can make it a little bit more than that. So let’s talk about some of the other factors that you’re going to inherit that are a big factor, especially in some of the shorter distance races, as to how well you’re going to be able to run.

[00:03:48] The second factor I want to talk about that really isn’t quite as shiny as VO2 max because it’s a little more invasive to measure. So my opinion is that why we don’t focus on it quite as much, but it’s a particular concern. If you’re like me and you like to specialize in like 5K, 10K, the fast stuff. So I say short, it’s not really short, but it is short. And that’s the lactate threshold.

[00:04:13] Lactate threshold plays a huge role, especially in these shorter distance races because you’re working at such a hard rate. Now, it is going to play a role in the longer races, but because longer races, especially when you go marathon, ultramarathon, half Iron Man, Iron Man, unless you’re at the elite level in those races, are often going to be much more aerobic. Lactate threshold is the point at which we’re working hard enough that our ability to use oxygen that VO2 max is overcome our muscles must then use the process creating lactate to create energy.

[00:04:55] The threshold is when lactate begins to build up faster than our body can remove it. So lactate threshold is a heritable trait, but it is again much like VO2 max, somewhat trainable and spending time at lactate threshold, which is like doing race pace intervals. So if I go to the track and I do 1000 meter repeats at 5K race pace, I’m going to be spending time building up lactate and trying to train my body to reduce the amount of lactate at those particular work levels.

[00:05:32] This is the kind of work you do after you’ve kind of maxed out your VO2 max through aerobic work, and then you’re trying to push the level just a little bit more. We do know that some people are naturally genetically more capable of removing lactate from their blood faster than others. And again, it’s a mixed bag because you can’t really control the inherited part, but you can train it to some degree.

[00:06:04] So though it is a ceiling on us, in some in some instances, we can kind of push up the ceiling a little bit, raise the roof, as it were, on our lactate threshold to try to become a little bit better. The next two factors I want to talk about kind of go hand in hand in that they play in the same systems and that is muscle mixture and susceptibility to injury.

[00:06:33] So muscle mixture, what I’m talking about like slow twitch, fast twitch muscles and then muscle expression. So. If you’ve seen, say, like the African runners, Kenya and Ethiopian runners, they’re often very thin. They’re very, very strong for their size. But they’re the expression of their muscles is that they don’t get very large and then thus don’t put on a lot of weight. It isn’t always that. The heavier you are, the slower you are. But there is a limit.

[00:07:09] So I know for me in particular, I simply can’t exist at that kind of musculature. That’s not the traits I inherited. I tend to be a heavier runner, though that didn’t limit me in terms of speed. I was still much faster than many of the people racing in the same level that I was. So there is an interplay of this heritable trait of how is your body expressed? Are you able to maintain a very, very lean body composition?

[00:07:43] Again, for me in particular, I tend to have a little bit more fat than many people I compete with at the same level and then larger muscles as well versus skinnier people or thinner people. But it is going to play a role in that. At the upper echelons, you know, the farther you go up, the higher the disparity is and the less likely it is you’re going to find people like me with larger muscle mass trying to move at faster speeds.

[00:08:19] There are notable exceptions to this rule, but I think I have to look this up. But I’m pretty sure for people running like Elite ten KS, there’s only like a handful of guys over I don’t know if it’s 150, 160lbs, something like that, that have ever gone like sub 27. Most of them are much thinner. So although it is not the ultimate determiner of your speed, it does affect you, especially as you get towards that pointy end.

[00:08:53] Now the other thing injury susceptibility has in part to do with that muscle mixture, but also tendons and ligament strength and their susceptibility to injury. Again, like the other factors, this is something you can kind of control by not building mileage too fast. It takes a long time for tendons and ligaments to adapt much longer than it takes muscles to adapt.

[00:09:17] But there are chemicals in our body that play a factor in how strong or how pliable our tendon ligaments are, which leads to increased or decreased flexibility. Again, you can train that to some degree, but that also plays a role in how often we’re going to be injured. Not to be all doom and gloom. I do want to talk about a few things that you can control that have less to do with your genetic potential and more to do about maximizing your personal potential. As I mentioned at the beginning, we make a sports drink personalized for people’s genetics.

[00:09:59] It has to do with how many milligrams per liter of salts or electrolytes you lose in your sweat. So the range is typically 300 to 3000 milligrams per liter. I happen to be on the low end, so like I don’t have very salty sweat, but somebody who has somewhat salty sweat maybe is going to be like 1000 ish or 1000 is about average. And then somebody who has very salty sweat is probably going be like 5500 ish and up. And then the drink kind of focuses on those most common intervals. 

[00:10:34] You are actually able to customize further. We have a sweat test where we can test your actual genetic number. Mine in particular is 630. I actually double tested the other day, came at 620. So two different testing methods trying to figure out what the best way to do that test is. And it came right in that same range.

But that’s something you can control when you can figure out, Hey, this is how many electrolytes I’m losing, this is what I need to replace. Because electrolytes play a factor in how our brain and muscles interact. We need them to be able to send signals between the two. It’s especially more important the longer your race goes. That’s something you absolutely can control.

[00:11:16] And again, if you want to check that out Solpri.com/shop, check out the link to the product page in the description below. But beyond that, the other thing you can control is going to be your mindset.

[00:11:29] And I was talking to Dr. Bradford Cooper on the Smart Athlete Podcast the other day, a show I do here on this channel. Subscribe, check that out on a Friday. It comes out every Friday. New guests. We were talking about motivation in his research into motivation, the factors that are involved. Despite my kind of pooh poohing the ability to make people more motivated over time, Dr. Bradford Cooper would suggest that it’s actually trainable.

[00:12:00] And I do believe that there are factors you could train, but he kind of opened up the possibility that there’s a lot more to it than just simply saying you’re either motivated or you’re not motivated. And there are tools and things you can do to actually get yourself motivated, to stay more consistent with your training. And that’s something else you can control, right? You can control how consistent you are with your training.

[00:12:29] All that being said, I absolutely suggest you check out that conversation I had with Dr. Cooper. It will come up here at the end of the episode. It’ll pop up on the screen, you can click on it. And again, if you’re interested in that sports drink, we can help you match your genetic losses to keep you fueled and ready to go via your electrolytes or keep you hydrated, rather. Check that out Solpri.com/shop or on the link below. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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