Do our genes affect our muscle building potential?
Each of us has an individual, distinct and unchangeable DNA structure that affects us in very different ways. Some of us are good at running, some of us are unable to process gluten and some of us get incredibly severe hangovers from the smallest drop of alcohol. However, just having the right DNA doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to living your life or improving your abilities. It’s understanding your DNA and how genetics affect muscle that enables top athletes to capitalize on their genetic predispositions and in turn, develop their physical abilities and muscles. Let’s discuss in detail how genetics and muscles are related
What are the three somatotypes?
Ectomorph: This body type is an example of someone that has a thinner frame and low body fat. They have a very fast metabolism but also struggle to put on muscle, often resulting in flat chests and light muscle definition.
Endomorph: This body type has the hardest job in many ways. They are “stockier” rounder builds that put on fat and muscle easily but losing that fat is often more difficult due to their slower metabolism.
Mesomorph: The mesomorph identifies as the muscular body type and is more triangular than the others. They have a fast metabolism but also have very responsive muscular cells that enable fast and well-defined muscle growth.
The reason this is important is that each somatotype responds differently to the same physical training and diets. If you want to become a successful athlete, you should adapt your training to the body types you relate to most, otherwise, you risk a lot of hard work for no real gain if you do not have the knowledge about how genetics affect muscle building.
There are many factors that come together which determine your total muscle-building potential. There are controllable factors that involve how you live, eat, think and train. If your training, diet, and lifestyle are perfectly suited to maximize muscle growth in your body, the only thing limiting muscle growth and strength gains would be uncontrollable factors, such as your genes.
Although how you eat, move, and live can have profound effects on your bones, including your overall structure and the strength of your bones, your bones are also hardwired to have limits and to follow a genetically preset potential of possibilities. You could eat right, move, exercise, and live in a way that promotes amazing bone health, but you would never get as tall as the average NBA professional if it was not also hardwired into your genes at birth.
Bone structure can have a strong influence on how much muscle you can build. Larger bone structures can support more muscle mass than smaller bone structures. Your bones are what your muscles are anchored to. Some bone structures can also make a person look more muscular than someone who has more muscle. Wide clavicles and narrow hips promote the “v-taper” look, which gives the illusion of being more muscular. Professional bodybuilders can thank their bones and bone structures for their competitive success, just as much as they can thank their muscles.
Your “muscle bellies” also play a significant role in how “big” and muscular you are and look. Muscle bellies are the meaty part of a muscle that does not include the tendon, this is predetermined by your genes. Think of a calf muscle that goes all the way down to the ankle vs a calf muscle that seems to sit high near the knee. The longer calf muscle has more potential for growth, due to the bigger belly. Professional bodybuilders typically have long muscle bellies all over their bodies.
Testosterone levels can be wildly influenced by lifestyle. What you eat, how you train, live, how you sleep, and even your mindset, have the potential to cut testosterone levels in half or double them. There is also a genetic component. Your upper limit for testosterone and how much your testosterone is easily affected by negative lifestyle factors are largely determined by genes. Normal for one man, maybe twice as high as another man who has a very similar lifestyle.
Testosterone levels have a huge influence on muscle building. It is one of the main reasons why men are generally much more heavily muscled than women. If you have naturally high testosterone levels because of your genes, then you will have an easier time building muscle compared to someone with lower natural levels.
Your muscles themselves can also be hardwired to build easily, or more difficult. Your muscles are made up of different types of muscle fibers. We can generally label them as a fast-twitch or slow-twitch. Fast-twitch muscle fibers work great for power, speed, and strength, but are not so great for endurance. They produce a lot of power but burn out quickly. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are endurance workhorses. They are not as strong or powerful, but they last much longer.
Fast-twitch muscle fibers
Fast-twitch muscle fibers grow when they get better at what they do. Slow-twitch fibers also grow but too much less a degree. Therefore, long-distance running does not build leg muscles like sprinting or barbell squats do. Although fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers can act somewhat like each other if you train in specific ways, a large part of what determines the ratio of each is your genes. If the ratio of your muscle fibers is genetically far higher in fast-twitch fibers, then they will build faster and larger than if they were higher in slow-twitch fibers.
Your genetics affect muscles in a way that also determines how responsive your body is to resistance training in general. Building muscle is an adaptation process, and if you consider everything that happens in your body from signal to change, it is very a complex process. Some people’s bodies respond like crazy to resistance training, regardless of all the above factors. Due to the complexity of the process, we do not know why necessarily, but responsiveness in each person’s body is likely due to genetics.
Our muscles are divided into three major types, which include smooth, cardiac, and skeletal muscles. When people talk about building muscle, it is usually referred to as the skeletal muscles.
Skeletal muscles are attached to the bones by tendons. Skeletal muscles undergo voluntary movement along with the bones. When the muscles are continually challenged to deal with resistance and weight, the muscle fibers undergo trauma, and this results in injuries. Satellite cells, a type of cells present outside the muscle fibers, are activated when your muscles are injured. These damaged muscle fibers are fused and repaired by the satellite cells. This increases the mass and size of muscles.
Hormones Help Build Muscle
Apart from challenging your muscle, certain hormones help build muscle too. These hormones include testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin growth factor. The hormones help build muscle by
– Activating satellite cells
– Inhibiting protein breakdown
– Managing muscle mass and repairing muscle cells
– Stimulating other hormones that promote muscle growth and protein synthesis
– Enhancing tissue growth
– Forming new blood capillaries
Exercise and Building Muscle
The best way to improve muscle mass is through exercise. Diet also plays a role in building muscle mass.
Resistance and strength training is highly recommended to increase muscle mass. Aerobic exercises also contribute toward muscle building. They stimulate the release of growth hormones from the pituitary gland. The amount of hormone varies with the intensity of exercise. Growth hormone increases your metabolism and aids in protein formation from amino acids to build more muscle. Training also stimulates the release of testosterone and improves the sensitivity of muscles to testosterone.
Testosterone, the male sex hormone, plays a significant role in muscle building. Men have more amounts of this hormone than women. They might be able to build muscle at a faster rate, but muscle building does not depend only on testosterone. Various other factors decide on muscle building. Studies have shown that men and women respond in similar ways to strength training.
Muscle Building and Body Shape
Muscle building varies depending on the body shape. A personalized training program that caters to the body shape can help build muscle at an optimal rate. The different body shapes are:
- Mesomorphic: People of this type are generally more muscular and can build muscle at very fast rates.
- Ectomorphic: People of this type usually have a slim or straight frame and cannot build muscle at very fast rates. They can gradually build muscle and strength through resistance training.
- Endomorphic: People with type usually have a rounded or curvy frame. This body type also has a high tendency to store fat. Training focus should be on losing fat and gradually building muscle through strength and resistance training.
How Does Genetics Affect Muscle Building?
Several genes have been studied with muscle building. Genes can determine how easy or difficult it is to build muscle mass up to a certain extent. Genetics affect muscle composition, your body type, and your response to diet and training.
The IGF1 gene encodes a protein called Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1. IGF1 is an anabolic hormone that stimulates the growth of muscle, bone, and several other tissues in the body. It stimulates protein-building processes. This hormone aids in muscle building through a process called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy refers to the increase in muscle mass through exercise. Variations in this gene can determine how easy or difficult it is to build muscle.
rs35767 is an SNP in the IGF1 gene. The minor allele, the T allele, is found to be associated with higher levels of circulating IGF1 and an increase in muscle mass compared to the C allele.
Non-Genetic Factors That Affect Muscle Building
Age: With age, muscular strength reduces. A decrease in the cross-sectional area of muscle fibers and amount of tissue is observed in older people. Regular training and training started at an early age can help build and maintain muscle mass.
Limb length: People with shorter limbs find it easier to lift weights and do certain exercises than taller people. People with longer limbs also have other advantages. They are better at overhead presses and deadlifts. Training suited to your body type, and limb length is essential for optimal results.
Building Your Muscles Effectively
The best way to build muscle is through consistent, challenging, and long-term training. This will help you achieve the best results and build muscle mass.
Strength and resistance training
Strength and resistance training, at least twice a week is highly recommended to build muscle. This training includes weight lifting, bodyweight exercises, and using resistance bands. Increase your training volume gradually.
Cardiovascular training is also essential to building muscle. While it might not have the same effect as strength training, aerobic exercises strengthen your heart and respiratory system. It increases your overall exercise capacity and can help reduce the risk of injury.
Talk to a trainer to develop the best workout plan for your body type aimed at building muscle mass. The right exercises and diet are beneficial.
Adequate rest periods in between workouts are very important to give your muscles time to repair. Muscles need to recover from all the resistance and injury caused during exercise. Without sufficient rest, the risk of injury is higher, and your fitness progression will also slow down.
A healthy diet with a good source of protein will fuel your workout and build muscle. Protein-rich foods with the amino acid leucine are recommended. These include poultry, beef, lamb, eggs, milk products, and non-animal products like soybean, beans, nuts, and certain seeds.
So, there you go, it’s not just knowing about your DNA that can make you a successful athlete, in many cases, you’ll find that you unwittingly train in ways that suit your genetics simply because you find you get the best results. Not to mention the levels of practice, skill, and technique that go into each sport.
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