Can a DNA test predict my VO2 max?

Can a DNA test predict my VO2 max?

As a keen cyclist I read the results of my test from DNAFit with great interest, and was particularly intrigued by my aerobic potential (aka VO2 max) result.

Your VO2 max indicates the maximum or optimum rate at which you can effectively use oxygen during exercise. In the past, I’ve found it productive to employ aerobic and anaerobic strategies when racing, so I believed that looking at my VO2 max from a genetic perspective might help me train more effectively, and even help me improve my results. Here’s the VO2 max chart that DNAFit produced for me:

This was misleading at first. This is not, as I had initially believed, telling me that I’ll only ever be able to achieve a low VO2 max because of my genotype. Rather, it’s telling me it will take a long time and a lot of training both to achieve and to maintain a high VO2 max. Conversely, someone with a high VO2 max potential has a very trainable VO2 max which should respond much better to an aerobic training programme.

VO2 max laboratory testing
Having given this aspect of the DNAFit results more thought, I decided that I needed to know if I can trust its accuracy. That means testing my VO2 max so I can have a benchmark against which I can measure future results. The gold standard VO2 max test is conducted by professionals in a lab, using a ‘ramp test’ in which difficulty is gradually raised until the subject is at maximum effort. Their breath is analysed to see how much oxygen they are processing while flat out, and in some cases blood is sampled at 3-minute intervals in order to analyse lactic acid build-up.

It’s worth noting that lactate threshold is another measure of athletic fitness, considered by many to be an even more important predictor of performance than VO2 max. Lactate threshold determines how hard your muscles can work before they are overwhelmed with lactic acid, however, DNAFit don’t currently look for a genetic association to this threshold.

Testing VO2 max at home
Although there are many variations of VO2 max tests you can take at home, I settled on the Queens College Step Test, which is described very well here:

I’m a 40-year-old man who has spent an average of 4hrs a week cycling so far this year, weighted towards the last couple of months, and the result of my first test was a VO2 max of 60.51. According to the comparative charts on this page, that puts me above the normal level for non-athletes of my age, and just below the predicted range for cyclists, so this is roughly what I was expecting.

The real question
The main purpose of the DNAFit test is to help people achieve their athletic goals, whether that be losing weight, gaining muscle or, as in my case, going faster on a bike. VO2 max is widely considered to be one of the more important variables affecting a road cyclist’s performance, but no prizes are awarded for a high score. Improving speed is the result of a combination of variables which also include lactate threshold, body weight, pedalling efficiency, and many more.

DNAFit offered me the option of purchasing expert consultations with their Olympic athletes, in order to come up with a bespoke training plan. I’m sure this would give me some excellent information, particularly if it is based around a specific sporting goal rather than trying to raise my VO2 max in isolation, and I will definitely consider this in the future. In the meantime, I am using their online report and studying the conversations they have with their customers, which is helping me to understand how best to tailor my training.

So, the answer to whether a DNA test can predict my VO2 max is “no”, but I think the real question is “Will this newfound knowledge of my genetic predisposition help me to go faster?” Watch this space!

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