Getting Into His Genes: Genetic Testing
Olympic gold-medallist Cameron van der Burgh might resemble the Greek heroes who once competed in the Olympiad, but does that make him the pinnacle of health?
On learning that he has never made use of genetic testing to optimize his performance, we decided to put his diet and exercise regime to the test. And the results reveal a surprising truth that applies to us all.
Why didn’t he decode his DNA sooner?
As an Olympic athlete, one might think Van der Burgh would be the first in line for genetic testing. Why hasn’t he made use of it before?
He says: “Genetic testing is fairly new. I will be 29 soon and I was an Olympic champion at 24. When I was starting out, these tests were new, expensive and not as easily accessible as they are today.” By the time they became a viable option, Van der Burgh felt comfortable in his knowledge of what worked for his body. “My strengths lie in power and speed. Long distance/endurance doesn’t come naturally, and I have had to work really hard to optimize this. I have always approached my training from a standpoint of an understanding of my strengths and weaknesses.” He continues: “When it comes to diet, I was listening to what my body told me from a young age. When I was 18, I went to see a nutritionist to optimize my eating plan. This was back in the era of carbo-loading – an approach that never worked for me. I found that they overestimated the number of calories I needed, and it was hard to maintain the correct weight. So, I did my own research and quickly switched over to a Mediterranean diet. I immediately saw an improvement, and stuck with my decision.”
Several medals later, and as an internationally acclaimed athlete, his self-insight seems to have paid off. Nobody can question the effectiveness of his methods – not even his genetic tests, as it turns out.
The big reveal
Helen de Beer, client relationship manager at DNAlysis Biotechnology, says Van der Burgh is close to optimal when it comes to his genetic profile for diet and exercise. “His genetic profile indicates that he should be eating a Mediterranean diet; he also has a very good balance of both power and endurance potential, and his training regimen makes use of both.”
She adds: “We found that, while he has the ability to lose weight with a high carbohydrate intake, weight management is easier for him when total carbohydrates are reduced,” a fact that Van der Burgh seemed to know intuitively. “He also has a sensitivity to saturated fats. A Mediterranean diet is optimal for him, because it is low in both carbs and saturated fats. “When it comes to his ability to perform in both power and endurance activities, this is due to the rare type of ACE gene he carries.
This gene is involved in blood flow and respiration; it allows for increased aerobic capacity, allowing him to compete at a top level. He also has certain genes that allow him to produce more mitochondria than the average person, giving him an endurance advantage over the man in the street.”
It turns out that this genetic profile is optimal for an activity such as swimming, which requires both power and endurance capacities.
However, Van der Burgh did come up as having a poor detoxification and high inflammation profile. “Detoxification and inflammatory markers can make you sore and increase recovery time. If he wants to shorten his recovery time and decrease his risk of injury, he will need to address this,” De Beer states. “His high-intensity training regimen will make it more difficult for him to tackle these issues. So, he needs to ensure that he is eating sufficient protein, iron and vitamin C; upping his cruciferous vegetable intake; stretching after every session; and frequently visiting a biokineticist.”
So, no twist to the tale: the results reveal that Van der Burgh has developed an uncanny ability to listen to his body. In fact, the most surprising discovery was not diet or fitness-related. Rather, it was that Van der Burgh has a genetic predisposition towards greater osteoporosis risk. De Beer advises: “He should limit his caffeine to two or three cups a day maximum, and supplement his vitamin D levels.”
The health truth we all need to hear
We tend to look at athletes and think that they are extraordinary humans with health levels that are unattainable for the average mortal. Some of them may have a genetic advantage for competitive sports, such as Van der Burgh’s ACE gene type. But, overall, they are not that different when it comes to raw health potential.
The actual difference is simple: their health is their focus, passion and career. As a result, they become attuned to their bodies and develop an intuitive understanding of what they need.
On the other hand, most of our careers have nothing to do with our physical bodies. Health isn’t our focus, so we haven’t yet honed the ability to listen to what our bodies need.
This perspective is empowering, because it means that we, too, can intuitively understand the diet and exercise regime that is optimal for us. We need only to set aside the time, each day, to focus on our health and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us.
And, for those of us who would like the extra help, genetic testing is now both affordable and easily accessible. In a fast-paced, modern world (that’s always pressed for time), genetic testing is a great way to get a head-start and ensure that our health is on track.
Click here to discover the link between genes and weight loss.
If you want to understand more about the topic or undergo genetic tests yourself, visit DNAlysis’ website at the following link.