Sports Genomics – Basketball


The other day, I was reading David Halberstam’s “the breaks of the game”, I pondered over these lines. “What he didn’t know was that basketball wouldn’t make him happy again for another seven years”. What immediately struck me was how sport can be a cruel caprice of fate. Yes, any sport that gives us everything can travel the other way too. Such is the nature of reality on the pitch, innit? Also, the book has in it, an indirect mention about Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals. Between them, they had Basketball’s greatest power-backs and versatile forwards. In Utopia, basketball is one sport where DNA (in the form of an individual’s height) plays a huge role in an athlete’s success. In case a player is not expectedly tall, his/her wingspan (fingertip-to-fingertip measurement) defines individual greatness. Both wingspan and height together make a basketball player, a genetically equipped professional. 

The idea behind narrating a tale of such forgotten proportions is to understand the reason behind their unprecedented success if only to pass on to the generations, knowledge and wisdom required in doing so. Yes, we as humans differ in our abilities in achieving excellence in sport and this depends to some if not a major extent, on our genetic components. And yes, there’s a certain quintessential truth behind the genes of an athletic performance. What if I say, sports genomics demystifies the link between athletic performance and genetics? What if I say, understanding your genetic predisposition helps you achieve centralized and personalized training in a particular sport? 

What Muscle and DNA Are Involved in Training? 

In every athlete keep alone volleyball, there is DNA and genetic material that is associated with the performance; ACTN3 and ACE. These genes impact the fibre that makes up muscles and are linked to strength and endurance. Various other attributes associated with athleticism are, muscle mass, body mass index, flexibility, aerobic capacity, coordination, personality and intellectual ability. An Australian study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics in 2003 reported the testing of 429 elite athletes for the ACTN3 gene. Everyone had at least two copies of that gene with variants R or X. The R variant guides the body to produce alpha-actinin-3 (protein present in fast-twitch muscle fibres) while the X variant restricts its very production. The study concluded that not even one among the 32 sprinters of Olympic proportions had two X variants. If you can understand from the above, not all muscle is similar and athletes have different types of muscle fibres in them. In general, skeletal muscles are reported as slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibres. A slow-twitch fibre contract very little and help in endurance activities like long-distance running. In the case of basketball, this fibre favours point guards in keeping them physically active in the game throughout without tiring. On the other hand, fast-twitch fibres contract very quickly and are useful for activities like sprinting which require a sudden burst of strength. In the case of basketball, this fibre favours a zone defence system, favouring the power forwards and the small forwards who require sudden and powerful bursts of energy to artifice the opponent. 


Having a Speed Gene Will Not Determine Athlete’s Individual Success 

As simple as it stands, having a perfect genetic combination of the so-called speed gene ACTN3 will not make one, an Olympic sprinter. One research study conducted by Pitsiladis reported that, all ACTN3 can tell an individual is, he/she aren’t going to make it to the Olympic individual medley team. Despite this, there were Jamaican cases that had wrong copies of gene and still excelled well in events like long jump and high jump. Usually, the Kenyan and Ethiopian sprinters boss out endurance activities like long-distance running due to slight advantages in their socioeconomic status and environmental factors. The study concluded that majority of the students lived miles away from school and had to reach school on foot. In Ethiopian thought process, every day and every job is like running an unrecorded marathon. Another research study conducted in 2006 reported that nearly three-quarters of exercise variation is adjudged to the genetic makeup of an individual with very little role played by the environmental factors. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “Maybe it wasn’t talent the Lord gave me, maybe it was the passion.” 

Bottom line: Train well to perform well 

One major thing genetic testing can do is to provide insights to help us perfectly plan our decisions and approach our training in a more structured and systematic manner. Some athletes may be predisposed to endurance events, some may not, but in truth, there’s no genetic profile of super-athlete calibre. If you face hardships as a sprinter, it can be that your body is more favourable towards endurance activities like swimming and marathon running. Understanding our genetic material will enable us to approach rest and recovery, and avoid injuries. Even though our genes cannot tell everything about us, they can surely guide us in a systematic way as we pursue better health and improved athletic performance. More importantly, if you want something very badly and are determined to excel no matter what, you will be unstoppable. 

How Mapmygenome Can Help You:

At Mapmygenome, our focus is mainly on predictive risk assessment, maintaining a proper diet, adapting to a healthier lifestyle. We focus on preventive healthcare and wellness. With screening tests like MyFitGene, you can personalize your training and diet while understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your body. If you know the right road to choose, you are halfway to the finish line! Know the best way to get fit for life, read your DNA story to know yourself completely.

We offer personalized health solutions based on genetic tests that help people to get to know about themselves. By combining genetic health profile and health history with genetic counselling, we provide actionable steps for individuals and their physicians towards a healthier life. To learn more about our tests, write to or call us at 1800 102 4595.


  1. Do You have the Genes to Excel in Basketball? (2013, September 15). Retrieved from
  2. Hay, Jessa. “A Gene Ahead of the Game: A Look at Sports Genetics.” (2017).


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