The “sprinter gene” is a genetic variant of the ACTN3 gene, which enables the production of the alpha-actinin-3 protein. This protein helps anchor the actin protein, so that the actin and myosin filaments within our muscle fibers are able to slide past each other during muscle contractions.
Alpha-actinin-3 is predominantly found within fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the muscle fibers that can fire very quickly for the sudden bursts of energy required in power athletes, such as sprinters, throwers, and jumpers.
Find out if you have the “sprinter gene” with this DNA test.
The “sprinter gene” is a genetic variant of the ACTN3 gene. Individuals who inherit one or two copies of the “sprinter gene” (rs1815739 C variant) are able to produce the alpha-actinin-3 protein in their fast-twitch muscle fibers. Almost all elite power athletes who have been studied have the “sprinter gene”.
Individuals who do not have the “sprinter gene”, and instead have two copies of the rs1815739 T variant, are unable to produce alpha-actinin-3 protein. Luckily another gene (ACTN2) seems to compensate for the complete loss of the alpha-actinin-3 protein, but does not provide the same advantage for athletic power activities. The ACTN3 rs1815739 TT genotype is very rare in elite power athletes.
Muscle Composition and the “Sprinter Gene”
Muscle fibers exist as two main types – fast-twitch and slow-twitch. Fast-twitch fibers are beneficial for power sports, because they fire very quickly and generate sudden bursts of energy. Slow-twitch fibers prefer to burn fat for energy, which enables them to work for a long time before tiring; hence they are more useful for endurance sports.
Power athletes, such as sprinters, throwers, and jumpers, tend to have more fast-twitch fibers, while endurance athletes, such as marathon runners and road cyclists, tend to have more slow-twitch fibers. This difference is due to training habits, as well as genetics, and the “sprinter gene” is one such genetic variation that plays a big role.
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