When I find heard that DNA fitness and diet testing had emerged on the consumer market, I was 100% fascinated. I loved the concept of a plan based on my unique DNA.
As you will likely have read, I have taken tests based on blood samples, but unlike DNA, these are fluid and changeable, where your DNA is fixed. I like this idea and it made me think that DNA testing could be more useful in the long-term.
I was keen to know what my DNA could tell me, and whether it could help me further improve my health through fitness and diet.
Has this feeling stuck around after speaking to some experts and trying a couple of DNA fitness tests for myself? Read on to find out...
I have found that when taking these tests, it’s really useful - essential, really - and totally fascinating to properly understand the various things that are being tested for. So here’s a quick overview of genetic testing.
What are genes?
According to the report of one of my test results,
"A gene is a segment of the DNA (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule that contains the instructions for how, when and where your body makes each of the many thousands of proteins required for life.
“Each gene is comprised of thousands of combinations of four letters that make up your genetic code: A, T, C, and G.”
Those letters can be seen in the DNAFit report. The different variations (alleles) can indicate a predisposition to dietary issues or sporting potential.
Thanks to new developments, the way that we can access DNA testing has changed significantly.
How is gene testing carried out?
One example of DNA testing is a heel prick test. Like most of you reading this (although you may not know or remember!), I had one when I was a few days old. These are carried out on all new babies in the UK to screen for nine rare but serious health conditions.
The DNA data from this diagnosed me with the genetic condition Cystic Fibrosis.
However, consumer prescribed DNA tests return results far less clinical and severe. They are limited (for now, anyway) to highlighting correlations between your specific gene expressions and exercise-related or nutritional traits.
These kinds of tests tend to rely on a non-invasive, quick and simple cheek swab to collect DNA from cells picked up from the inside of your mouth.
DNAFit were the first company that I became aware of, offering DNA-based diet and fitness testing. I was not only interested in the service they were offering, but also loved their strong branding.
I was really impressed with the test kit from DNAFit. It was well presented, clear and with easy to follow instructions.
The test itself was incredibly simple; a case of waking in the morning, opening a pack containing a swab and rubbing it on the inside of my cheek for a minute. This was then enclosed in a tube, barcoded, and returned to DNAFit for processing.
Report + Consultation
I found the reports really useful as they really do appear in a professional report format that can be easily downloaded to refer to time and time again. They also provide your results in the form of a stylish and handy infographic.
The report is really comprehensive, explaining each aspect before providing you with your results and recommendations. I love this kind of stuff (honestly, seeing all of my results laid out thrilled me) but even I found it difficult to assimilate all of the information.
The report included:
- An introduction to the report
- An introduction to genetics
- A disclaimer including the assumptions that the report is based upon
- An overview of key results (see mine below)
- Your results including an explanation, genes analysed, your allele, its relationship to the attribute tested (e.g. carbohydrate sensitivity), and a brief recommendation
- Additional explanation where necessary (e.g. glycemic index overview when discussing carbohydrate sensitivity)
DNAFit definitely presented the information in the clearest way possible, but it was still essential to talk through this with one of their experts.
My consultation was with Tom Lancashire, a British 1500m runner and Olympic athlete. Tom talked me through all aspects of my results in depth and really helped me to understand the less-obvious implications of the results.
For example, a lower aerobic (VO2 max) potential could appear limiting for a rower. Training hard to improve VO2 max may only see small improvement compared to other athletes. However, with the help of a coach interpreting these results, a rower could instead train to increase strength, and therefore increase power per stroke. This could compensate for lower aerobic potential.
This really helped me to understand that the implication of results can be complex and if you are using these results to improve sporting performance, it would be of benefit to seek the advice of a coach.
Packages + Pricing
DNAFit testing for fitness is £119, or £149 for the premium version that includes additional benchmarking and reporting.
DNAFit testing for diet is £99 for the 'lite' version, £149 for premium and £199 for professional. Each pack contains additional content, such as a shopping list, food plan or additional gene testing.
Your consultation with a DNAFit expert to discuss your results is included in the price.
The issue that I see with the ways that these packs are presented is that if you're really interested in the gene associations, as I am, and want to know more about things like your liver detoxification or antioxidant utilisation potential, you have to also pay for a shopping list and food plan.
These are features that I personally wouldn't (didn't) use, but for beginners I can see the usefulness.
I trialled the Fitness Premium* and Diet Professional* packages, which are combined into the Fitness Diet Pro package for a discounted price of £249, a great way to get a full overview of everything while saving £99.
Feeling Nosey? Here Are My DNAFit Results
To give you an idea of what the tests cover and how the results are presented, here is the summary overview of my results from DNAFit.
My test pack from myInnerGo didn't have the sleek presentation of DNAFit but the key components were there.
I definitely wasn't going to hold presentation against them after my experience of York Test vs Cambridge Nutritional Sciences, as the latter was plain and unbranded (but still functional) and overall far more useful.
My only point to make here is that the instructions could have been more comprehensive. DNAFit specified taking the test immediately after waking, before putting anything besides water in your mouth. I don't know how much of a difference it makes, but myInnerGo did not give such a detailed advice.
The testing process was the same as before; using a swab to collect a sample before sending it away in a pre-paid package.
Report + COnsultation
The reporting for myInnerGo is all online-based. While the reports themselves are very clear and useful, I didn't like having to log in and navigate each time that I wanted to refer back to my results.
Once logged in on the myInnerGo site, you can view:
- Your genetic profile of results including a summary (see mine below), each attribute explained, the genes variations tested, your results on a scale (the breakdown of each of your specific allele is not included), and an explanation of the of your specific result
- Recommendations based on your results plus a short set of up to 6 questions covering topics such as your weight goals and sport preferences.
- Additional reading material about genetic testing (including a glossary) and references
- Diet plan (for myInnerGo Weight)
- Generic workout plans
- Results from any add-on packs
Following receipt of my results, I had a call with Chris Collins at myInnerGo to discuss. Chris has an extensive background in sport with lots of qualifications including sports therapy and radiology.
I found the consultation incredibly useful and Chris was able to give me very specific recommendations on how I could use my results. I found this call a little more helpful and specific than my call with DNAFit, despite it being much faster paced. In fairness, this is possibly because I'd already assimilated some information from DNAFit, so I wasn't starting from zero.
For example, I showed a genetic predisposition towards endurance training, but I don't enjoy typical endurance sports like running, swimming or cycling. Chris explained that this predisposition towards endurance training in my case is a better ability to acquire slow twitch muscles. Applied to weight training, working in a higher rep range will recruit more muscle fibres and lead to greater hypertrophy. I can also try supersets, drop sets and increase time under tension to extend working set time.
Also, as my recovery potential was reported slower than average, this could be due to impaired ATP regeneration. (I explain the role of ATP in my post on Creatine for Women). Therefore, I would benefit (as I have seen in the past) from creatine supplementation and possibly beta-alanine supplementation, which I am currently looking into (let me know if you'd like to see a post on this!).
Hopefully this gives you an insight into how useful the reporting was in itself, and how important it was to have the help of an expert when applying this new knowledge.
Packages + Pricing
The Sport Basic pack is £99* and the Weight Basic pack is also £99*.
There are a number of different add-ons available for the packs too, to provide you with more comprehensive information. I also had the Micronutrient results, which are a £40 add on*.
Within the Weight Basic test package, I had a 3 day meal plan included, which was useful for inspiration, although it cannot take into account intolerances/allergies.
Currently, it appears that a consultation is an additional charge, but I believe this is in the process of changing as myInnerGo realise that professional guidance on your results is pretty much essential.
Feeling Nosey? Here Are My myInnerGo Results
To give you an idea of what the tests cover and how the results are presented, here is the summary overview of my results from myInnerGo.
Fitness Genes Review
Fitness Genes got in touch with me after seeing this article when it was initially published. I decided to give their offering a try and see how it compared to the others, to make this article as up-to-date and useful to you as possible!
All other information in this article remains as it was before. I have simply inserted this additional review to give you further insight into the variety of genetic testing systems available to you. I hope it helps!
Compared to DNAFit and myInnerGo, Fitness Genes is much more training-oriented. What Fitness Genes aims to offer are Genetic Training Systems™; workout plans that leverage your genetic results.
The testing process for Fitness Genes was a little different to the others, as rather than a cheek swab, I was required to provide a saliva sample in a small plastic tube.
Report + Consultation
Like myInnerGo, my results were available only through logging into the Fitness Genes site. However, this was with good reason, I was told:
”We don't actually have reports...we're an online membership site. All of our results are continually updated as new research is released”
It’s clear that the Fitness Genes service has a lot of potential. The content that explains the roles of the different genes, available through the login area, is brilliant; more in-depth than I have seen anywhere else. So if you’re really fascinated by the science behind each gene and other related variables (and have some time on your hands to immerse yourself in some serious reading!), it’s great!
As an example, by clicking ‘read more’ on my folate result, I was presented with a wealth of information covering:
- An introduction to folate and homocysteine levels
- My personal analysis, including: what my result means overall; a breakdown of the three genotype results; nutrition advice including details of folate in food, and a useful guide to folic acid vs. l-methylfolate supplementation; the importance of B12
- More learning materials on ‘folate: genes that impact homocysteine levels’, including: folate and muscle building; the folate cycle; the methionine cycle; homocysteine levels; further information on the three gene variants tested; folate genetics and athletic importance.
I totally appreciate that you probably glazed over reading that long list, but I really wanted to illustrate that the content on the Fitness Genes portal goes beyond simply telling you whether you need more or less folate in your diet than the average person.
I’m also impressed with the way that they have interpreted the existing research into the genes and chosen to present the information. They will state whether certain genetic characteristics “have been debated” or whether “the exact mechanism by which this variation is acting remains to be determined by further functional studies of the gene and proteins involved.”
I really like this honest approach; I’d rather be told that there is insufficient evidence, than be left feeling that the information was contrived, or simply omitted, leaving my questions lazily unanswered.
Along with my results I also received personalised ‘Action Blueprints’ for training and nutrition. I found my training strategy recommendations really useful and actionable, and was pleased to see some nutritional recommendations too.
As well as personalised content, there are other resources available through the Fitness Genes portal’s library, including a glossary of terms, an e-book series and exercise guides.
There is no expert consultation included as part of the Fitness Genes service. As I’m quite familiar with the fitness DNA testing process, and with training and nutrition in general, I was comfortable accepting my results without a consultation, but it’s a service that might be a good add-on in future for people who feel they need guidance navigating their results.
Packages + Pricing
I trialled the Fitness Genes Starter System* worth £150, which includes a testing kit, results, action blueprints, ongoing gene and scientific updates and a 4-week starter workout plan.
Fitness Genes also have a huge number of packages available. You can opt for 'systems', which include the DNA testing kit with a training plan. Alternatively, you can purchase 'plans' on their own if you already have your Fitness Gene results.
Prices go up to £289 for the ‘celebrity systems’ designed with a celebrity partner.
All of the options can be found in the Fitness Genes shop.
My Fitness Genes Results
Unlike DNAFit and myInnerGo, Fitness Genes didn’t have a section that summarised my results. I actually think this is a good thing, as I like that my results hadn’t been over simplified.
However, so that you can still get an insight into how my results were presented to me, I have included some insightful screenshots in the sections above!
The Experts’ Opinion on DNA Fitness Testing
Recently, thanks to Fitness First, I had the opportunity to interview Team GB coaches and I was keen to ask their opinions on DNA testing for sport and performance.
Duncan French, the technical lead of Strength and Conditioning Coaching at the English Institute of Sport working with Team GB, said:
”As technology and our understanding of the body increases, this is going to be thrown into the mainstream. However, it’s taking a lot of the art of sports performance out of it and I don’t think it will ever become prescriptive.
“For the general person, it might give you some insight, but it’s hard to find a suitable person to interpret what the results mean. It’s not that simple. There are so many other variables to fitness and sports performance.
“Before everything else you have to enjoy it; you have to have a mental engagement and a reason for doing what you’re doing. Otherwise, regardless of the DNA profiling, you aren’t going to maximise your potential.”
James Collins, Performance Nutritionist with Team GB, said:
”There’s insufficient evidence. No one’s doubting that genetics has an impact but we’re a long way away from cause and effect.”
What Research Says on Consumer DNA Tests
New research published in the BMJ suggests that evidence is far too weak to back use of these commercial tests.
"While the science of genomics has advanced rapidly over the past decade, the ability to interpret the meaning of genetic test results is still at a relatively early stage, says the statement."
"This burgeoning market has prompted fears that the current limited level of knowledge on the genetics of sports performance is being misrepresented for commercial gain, it says."
To be completely honest, I'm still not sure where I stand on DNA testing for fitness and diet purposes.
There are some clear pros and cons, which I will go into very shortly. However, I think that these pros and cons will vary from person to person, depending on curiousity, exising knowledge, goals, etc.
In some ways, these tests are very useful to beginners, raising their awareness of different aspects of fitness and diet. Alternatively, they could be very misleading without the right guidance.
Pros - For Me
This kind of genetic testing is really interesting. I learnt a lot.
The process itself as well as the information provided by each company - everything from my results to the glossaries provided on genetic testing terms - I found really interesting and insightful.
I found the nutritional suggestions quite useful. Although they were actions that I was already aware I needed to take (such as upping my Omega 3 and cruciferous veg intake), it was useful to have this on paper and I've definitely followed through.
However, bear in mind that there are few people who would not benefit from this, and the advice given on nutritional intakes varies vary little (sometimes just 2% of total daily caloric intake, when looking at macronutrients) between whether your results specificy are 'low' or 'high'.
In term of training implication, I've definitely got a few takeaway points. For example, understanding that my endurance potential is higher than my power potential helped me to understand why I feel greater muscle activation and overall benefit from doing high-rep weight training, as opposed to powerlifting/strength training. It has helped me to stop second-guessing myself in the gym, and just work with what my body seems to respond best to.
So, are the tests actually useful for everyone?
Cons - For Me
Considering these tests may be aimed at beginners looking to know where to start with their weightloss journey or what to focus on in the gym, it's actually quite difficult to apply the results in an intelligent way.
I think the problem with these tests are that a lot of people will head in to them thinking that they are prescriptive, and they aren't.
One of the reasons for this, besides the fact that genetics don't count for everything (that nature nuture debate will never die!), is that 'lifestyle' genetic testing is still very much in its infancy. There are a lot of things that need to be addressed before these kinds of tests will be truely useful for wider population.
Between the two tests that I carried out, for some categories the ‘genes of interest' could be significantly different. For example, for VO2 max potential, you can see below that the genes analysed are not the same, and the scales vary too, meaning that my overall result (low/normal/high) is different.
So how accurate are these tests?
While these correlations are based on studies, they are just that: correlations.
I don’t know how much research has been done on each of the gene variations that are used by these companies but this kind of genetic testing is in its infancy. Studies are usually conducted on small groups, and often on specific populations such as athletes. The correlations that have been observed will not necessarily apply to the entire population.
I know this may sound super-scientific, a bit dry and a bit boring, but it is important. Be curious, and be aware of things like this when you are considering investing in testing, or when you are interpreting your results.
DNAFit told me,
"All genes looked at have to have a consensus from at least 3 different peer reviewed papers to be included."
They also provide useful explanation on 'The Science Explained' section of their website.
Whereas myInnerGo said,
"We don't specify a number of studies, we look at the quality of studies and the size of the cohort."
Certainly, both companies are striving for the best that is available. But unfortunately, the best is still early days.
Peer review methods are used to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility, which is great. But if the requirement is for just three papers, this highlights the lack of research in the field.
To be clear, I'm not criticising the companies conducting these tests, just shedding a light.
On their website, DNAFit summarise this issue well:
"DNA testing for nutrition and fitness is an emerging science. Knowledge is evolving rapidly but is still far from complete. DNAFit prides itself on basing its genetic analysis and recommendations on the best science available, but that science is dynamic and may not always be conclusive. DNAFit may benefit some people more than others, and in some case possibly provide no benefit."
*Although people are increasingly excited about tests that allow us to monitor and improve our health (me included!), and their accessibility is mostly a great thing, perhaps these DNA tests have appearred a little prematurely. *
There is still a lot of room for misinterpretation of results. Even though these companies offer follow-up consultations, to really apply this knowledge to your training and nutrition programmes in a useful way would require the help of an experienced and qualified coach.
Overall, if you are curious to learn more, go ahead and take a test! Just bare in mind that they may be unable to provide the full guidance that you are searching for.
Have you taken a DNA test of this kind? Would you consider it after reading this article? I'm really keen to hear your thoughts on this!