Sports Genomics – Kabaddi


Back in the day, I used to have a friend with decent records decent record at school, be it lessons or sports. He was good at ‘the great Indian sport’, ‘Kabaddi’ and I was…well, let’s leave it at that for now. I used to think that some supernatural powers contributed to his skills. As I grow myself as a student of biology, I noticed that some supernatural powers are due to the very genes. But, the thought that genes alone don’t matter hasn’t left my mind, though. It should be that each gene and atmosphere contributed to his artistry that is his constitution, in sports. Kabaddi is certainly one sport every Indian will proudly associate themselves with, except like characters like me, who will forever boast about ‘hockey’ to unquenchable depths. Anyway, let’s leave it there.

What I meant was, not many of us know, that the Indian national Kabaddi team under the esteemed tutelage of Squadron Leader Shirash Pal Singh was a force to be reckoned with, and more than that. To the outsiders and the first-time hearers of the sport, Kabaddi players have a physique similar to rugby players but they play on sand and these days, on synthetic indoor courts. I’ve wondered forever, as to what made them so special? Unseen labour or coaching or mental strength or supernatural foods or supernatural powers or all of them came from another planet or genes or atmosphere or combination of many factors? These are persistent queries which keep surfacing in many discussions, conversations.


Let us try perceiving constitution and genotype. Constitution is that the set of evident characteristics (height, colour, skills etc) of a person ensuing from their genotype, atmosphere and interaction between genotype and atmosphere. Genotype, on the other hand, is the constitution of a person for a specific character. Phenotype has its influence on genotype and environment and interactions between genotype and environment. The height of an individual, an athlete’s performance are few examples of a given phenotype. In science, everything we do, including the performance of an athlete is influenced by genotype, environment and interactions between environment and genotype.

Yes, we are aware of the well-known facts about the role of genetics in an athlete’s performance, and obviousness of hereditary conditionality of sports, but what actually made them so great? 

Slow-Twitch and Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibres: 

Human genome contains nearly 20000-25000 genes that accredit to proteins, and more than 200 polymorphisms or variations in DNA that are associated with the fitness of an individual. Every athlete we see carries various genes in varied proportions. In every athlete, let alone Kabaddi players, there is DNA and genetic material that is associated with their performance; such as 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. The protein (alpha-actinin-3) produced by ACTN3 gene helps in muscle contraction by stabilizing muscle filaments. Presence of different variants of ACTN3 may suggest sports (Kabaddi, boxing, wrestling, distance running, swimming, soccer, cycling, football, weight-lifting or sprinting etc.) in which a child can excel. The likelihood that an athlete has all the 23 variants of the gene associated with endurance is 1 in 1 quadrillion. One of the important targets of Kabaddi conditioning is to generate strength in muscles and improve muscular power. Simply put, not all muscles are similar and athletes have different types of muscle fibres in them. Generally, skeletal muscles are reported as slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibres. A slow-twitch fibre contracts very little and helps in endurance activities like long-distance running. In the case of Kabaddi, this fibre favours players in keeping them physically active throughout the game without tiring. On the other hand, fast-twitch fibre contracts very quickly and is useful for activities like sprinting which require a sudden burst of strength. In the case of Kabaddi, these fibres favours raiders to exert sudden bursts of strength required to escape from the binding clutches of the opponent. Genetic tests will only reveal an advantageous genotype favouring a particular sport. Since performance in sports is a complex phenomenon, the transformation of an advantageous genotype into champion phenotype requires a combination of biological, environmental, psychological, economic and sociological factors. This is reinforced by the fact that not all the offspring of elite and famous sportspersons have excelled in sports. The conclusion, as per science, is that genetics (genes) have an influence on the performance of an individual in sports but quantification is difficult. Genetic test is a tool and not the final determinant to forecast which sport is best for a child. Sports and genetics are related but in a way that is difficult to decipher with the current achievements in science. 

Type I, IIa and IIb Fibers: 

  • Type I fibres are commonly known for resistant weariness and have an increased energy for elevation.
  • Type II fibres are everything type I aren’t. These have increased anaerobic power and minimal aerobic power.
  • Type IIa fibres are intermediate fast-twitch fibres which utilize both the metabolism (aerobic and anaerobic) to generate energy.
  • Type IIb fibres utilize anaerobic metabolism to generate sudden powerful bursts of speed.

In general, IIb fibres are the first involved in contracting. Once exhausted and weary, type I will take over.


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. 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.


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