Is there utility to genetic information in elite sport?

Pickering, Craig (2020) Is there utility to genetic information in elite sport? Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Variation between individuals in response to a stimulus is a well-established phenomenon. This thesis discusses the drivers of this inter-individual response, identifying three major determinants; genetic, environmental, and epigenetic variation between individuals. Focusing on genetic variation, the thesis explores how this information may be useful in elite sport, aiming to answer the question “Is there utility to genetic information in elite sport?” The current literature was critically analysed, with a finding that the majority of exercise genomics research explains what has happened previously, as opposed to assisting practitioners in modifying athlete preparation and enhancing performance. An exploration of the potential ways in which genetic information may be useful in elite sport then follows, including that of inter-individual variation in response to caffeine supplementation, the use of genetic information to assist in reducing hamstring injuries, and whether genetic information may help identify future elite athletes. These themes are then explored via empirical work. In the first study, an internet-based questionnaire assessed the frequency of genetic testing in elite athletes, finding that around 10% had undertaken such a test. The second study determined that a panel of five genetic variants could predict the magnitude of improvements in Yo-Yo test improvements following a standardised training programme in youth soccer players. The third study demonstrated the effectiveness of a panel of seven genetic variants in predicting the magnitude of neuromuscular fatigue in youth soccer players. The fourth and final study recruited five current or former elite athletes, including an Olympic Champion, and created the most comprehensive Total Genotype Score in the published literature to date, to
determine whether their scores deviated significantly from a control population of over 500 non-athletes. The genetic panels were unable to adequately discriminate the elite performers from non-athletes, suggesting that, at this time, genetic testing holds no utility in the identification of future elite performers. The wider utilisation of genetic information as a public health tool is discussed, and a framework for the implementation of genetic information in sport is also proposed. In summary, this thesis suggests that there is great potential for the use of genetic information to assist practitioners in the athlete management process in elite sport, and demonstrates the efficacy of some commercially available panels, whilst cautioning against the use of such information as a talent identification tool. The major limitation of the current thesis is the low sample sizes of many of the experimental chapters, a common issue in exercise genetics research. Future work should aim to further explore the implementation of genetic information in elite sporting environments.

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