I’ve Got the Speed Gene! (ACTN3)

When I first started learning about genetics for 23andMe’s genotyping services, I started on their site where there was some material. One of the articles was on variations, and more specifically, the “speed gene” with the scientific name of ACTN3. Being a multiple marathon runner who knew I was more of the fast twitch muscle variety for short bursts of speed rather than endurance running, I wanted to know if I, indeed, had this gene and was going to check on it among the first things I do, unless it were really hard to find. To be more correct, I wanted to know if I had the correct configuration of this gene. Everybody has this gene. It’s just a matter of which configuration it was in to enable the benefit of physical speed and power.

By configuration, I mean whether I had the right base pairings or genotype on this ACTN3 gene. Back up a step, just four bases (or nucleotides) make up one’s DNA: adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G). Only certain pairings are possible, but that’s another story. For now, just know that it’s not a free for all in terms of pairings possible. A base pairing on a gene is its genotype. Having one pairing versus another could be drastic in impact depending on what the gene does.

Gene requirement

For ACTN3, identified base pairings of CT, TT and CC were possible. Research has shown that at least one C in the genotype is beneficial to a person being more “natural” and speed and power movements and sports, via production of the alpha-actinin-3 protein. It’s hardly the be all and end all to that ability, but it’s both a “better starting point” and “easier road to travel” for someone to do speed and power movement activities, than someone without it. A lot of other factors, whether personality for disciplined training, diet, coaching and so on, will influence one’s success at speed and power activities, but this “speed gene” configuration definitely helps a little. Of the many speed and power sport Olympians tested, supposedly only one has been found to be a TT genotype in the ACTN3 gene, and that was a small shock to researchers. Mind you, that’s the absolute elite of athletic performance that most of us don’t ever see. There will be many among us of TT genotypes who can perform well in the speed and power activities, but the gene has been scientifically been proving to be beneficial.

I’ve got it!

My results show I have a CT genotype for the ACTN3 gene. Woot!

It’s not a CC or double configuration that might be more beneficial. However, that half and half combination is probably what allowed me to run marathons. You see, when I first started distance running, I used to get leg cramps at about 3 miles. With more training, I pushed that back closer to the full marathon distance. After 18 marathons, I finally got everything working right to be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That’s right, 18.

What does this mean to me?

My journey in distance running is one example of nurture over nature. I might have been naturally fast twitch muscle type, sure. However, with enough coercion, I was able to convert myself to a more distance running type. I still have a lot of short distance speed. Most people beside me on the finishing stretch of a distance race can’t out sprint me to the finish if my legs have anything left in them at all. That’s because the majority of them wouldn’t be sprinter types. They may have a gear or two above their distance running speed for short distance, but I’ve got like ten. 🙂

This is a nice personal reminder of nurture over nature that I’ll be holding on to closely as I go through the interpretation steps of my other genotyping results. I still run marathons, but I am also going back a bit to do more speed and power sports where I now have the endurance to boot.

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