Episode 56: Andrew Steele of DNAFit

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Description: Brad Kearns talks to British Olympic 400 meter runner Andrew Steele of DNAFit.com. DNAFit offers cutting edge genetic testing to identify your athletic and dietary attributes, enabling you to develop a strategy honoring your genetic particulars.

Andrew is the athletics specialist for the operation and is still an active professional runner pointing for the 2016 Olympic Games. He shares his own remarkable story of reaching the highest level of world performance. This British national champion ran a 44.96 and made the Olympic semi-finals in Beijing. Unfortunately he succombed to serious injuries and illness in preparation for the London Olympics in 2012. By chance, he was exposed to DNAFit’s genetic testing and his information revealed exactly how his training methods had failed him. In a quest to improve another half-second and contest for an Olympic medal, he had transitioned from what his body naturally thrived on to an overly stressful program that caused an Achilles blowout and an 18-month battle with mono.

The company is stacked with PhD’s in biochemistry, molecular genetics, and nutrigenomics, as well as fellow Olympian Craig Pickering, a Summer Games 100-meter runner and Winter Games bobsledder for the UK. This stuff is the real deal! The algorithms that calculate your results are based on highly respected scientific studies. Your DNA Fit test is a road map to help you choose the optimal training, dietary and lifestyle habits for peak performance. Learn more at DNAFit.com and enjoy the show!

Timestamps: [00:00:45] Our host Brad Kearns is very excited to bring you a fascinating high tech show about the science of genetic testing. Andrew Steele of DNAFit.com is an Olympic athlete based in London. He competes in the 400 meters for Great Britain and is actually is one of the fastest guys in the world, with the best time of 44.96 where he took a semi-final position at the Beijing Olympics games. Andrew has a really interesting story that we will get into in the podcast.

We’ll learn all about Steele and his associate, Craig Pickering, who is another Olympic athlete competing in both winter games doing the bobsled and summer events running the 100 meter. These guys are elite level athletes involved in the cutting edge science of genetic DNA testing. DNAFit will help you identify your genetic particulars as related to things like athletic performance, your ratio of power to endurance, as well as all kinds of dietary sensitivities, such as sensitivity to carbohydrates, fat, caffeine, Vitamin D. DNA testing is unlike blood testing. These markers are in your hard wiring and don’t change. You’ll discover what your actual genetic makeup is, as opposed to a blood test where it might show you how well you are honoring your genetic background, and your predisposition to this or that. That is what makes this so exciting and it is essential, not only for anyone who is a competitive athlete like Andrew and Craig, but also for anyone who wants to have the optimal training regimen, diet and daily lifestyle patterns that honor what their genes reflect.

[00:02:57] Interestingly these guys cold called Mark out of the blue and asked if he wanted to test his DNA. Mark, of course, said, “Sure.” He got some incredibly useful information that, in some cases, confirmed his suspicions about what worked best for him through trial and error.

This test information goes beyond trial and error and gives you an actual snapshot of what you are all about. One of the most interesting things in Mark’s case (and he is working on a post with more details) is that his review score reflected 57% endurance to 43% strength as far as his muscular composition. For a marathon runner it is more strength oriented than you might think. As Mark relates as he struggled as a marathoner to keep up with a high mileage regimen.

[00:03:56] Andrew Steele has a similar story. After his awesome performance in Beijing, he started preparations for the Olympic games in London, now four years off. He decided to dramatically modify his training in an effort to pick up the half second that would take him from an Olympic semi-finalist, to a guy standing on the medal stand listening to the national anthem. It was a big deal. He increased his explosive speed training which was generally thought to be his weakness and soon became overwhelmed by the alteration of his training. He suffered from with mono for a long time (the British call it Glandular Fever), and blew out his Achilles tendon. This is when he found DNAFit. He tested and revealed that he was shockingly low on the endurance component for a 400-meter sprinter. He still performed well but had very little aptitude to handle excessive speed and explosive training. It might be totally opposite for the guy competing against him in the next lane who has a high strength ratio.

When you combine DNA testing with regular blood and performance testing, you can see how you are doing at certain blinks in time, and can use that information to optimize what you are doing for peak performance. This is truly one of the greatest breakthroughs in competitive performance that we’ve seen in decades. I strongly urge you check out DNAFit.com and get yourself tested.

[00:06:45] Craig Pickering, another Olympic athlete who competes in both winter and summer Olympics, is Andrew’s associate in founding this exciting business. He had been following Mark Sisson for a long time so they contacted him with an offer to check out his DNA. DNAFit focuses on exercise, fitness, and nutrition by studying genetics. They send you a little box with the needed supplies to take a sample from the inside of your cheek to send back for analysis. One of the things they look at is nutrigenetics, which is how your genes interact with your nutrition choices.

Mark’s report came up with some pretty amazing conclusions. One interesting fact was that Mark’s genetic makeup was 43% power and 57% endurance. This can be very relevant but isn’t a method to tell a person what they can or cannot do. It’s not for talent identification or a reason to change anyone’s goal. They report on the genes in response to power based training or endurance activity to help you tailor and tweak the training methodologies. This helps alleviate the need for a trial and error search for the proper exercise. Mark has a full ACE gene which indicates good muscle growth and recovery. It is interesting that Mark’s long career in marathon and triathlon focused on endurance and now as he is retired, he happy working in the gym and playing ultimate Frisbee, both of which are more oriented to power and strength. Brad suggests that perhaps, looking at his genetic profile, had he had this DNA information, he may be chosen a different athletic career path. Andrew clarified that by describing how they use the information to modify the training practices. They do not use the information to suggest people are in the wrong sport.

[00:14:00] Brad mentions David Epstein’s book, “The Sports Gene,” which has paid much attention to genetic science and sports. One of the conclusions he makes is that it is not all in the genes. There are environmental factors. There is training, then there is passionate desire for the chosen sport or activity. Success and failure also come into play. Brad asks Andrew about his own profile and how it affects his training.

[00:15:30] Andrew’s story involves long sprint and relay. He used to train more like a middle-distance athlete. He would run then check his heart rate, more like an 800 or 1500-meter runner. He reached the Olympic games so he says, that wasn’t so bad! However after Beijing they had to look at the four years before the London 2012 games. He knew he needed to improve a half second in the four years. He had to decide how to make himself a half second faster. He realized his weakness was his short speed, his acceleration from the blocks. His 0 to 50 meters was much weaker. Sprint training with some endurance is preferred over endurance training with some sprint for that type of racing.

[00:18:42] During the four year period in preparing for the 2012 Olympics, Andrew experienced mononucleosis as well as a torn Achilles tendon. He actually didn’t improve during that time and fell behind instead causing him to miss out on the London games. That was a terribly disappointing and painful experience, of course. He tried to figure out what happened and what he was going to do now. At a training camp in Arizona, he was sent a swab to test his DNA. When he got the results, he was very impressed when it showed him in black and white what he had been forced to learn from painful and costly trial and error. He showed the majority on endurance genetically (more than Mark) and he had some key power genes too. He found he had some genes tending toward tendon problems, as well as a slow recovery speed. Mono had affected him in training. If what he learned in this DNA analysis, he had known four years prior, it would have changed the way he trained dramatically.

[00:22:01] It is obvious how we can use this in professional sports. But this can also help the everyday person who is just trying to be healthier. People’s motivation is very fragile. It is very confusing for most people looking to have a healthier lifestyle. What workout should I do? What is the best diet…Atkins, Paleo, etc.? All these different ideas are out there. People often try one or two things and if they don’t work, they stop trying. DNA analysis helps point them in the right direction.

[00:24:11] It sounds like coaches and athletes will have to be doing some build out in the years to come, For example, Andrew’s report he got when he was in Arizona helped him put the pieces together of the previous seven years of success and failure. Now when the next person down the street gets a similar makeup and wants to do the 400 meters, you can put the goals together, look at the genetics, then develop a ideal training program.

[00:25:04] There is a whole world of nutrigenetics that Andrew explains. They look at the interaction between genetics and our environment and what can we control. Genetics can be scary. It is not about predeterminism. Before they get a report on genes, they have a protocol that they have to pass. The genes that we look at have to be shown in at least three studies. There has to be an actionable lifestyle change to support that gene’s activity. There has to be something you can do about it. They don’t report anything that is not easily implemented. On the nutrition side, they can look at the individual’s response to carbohydrates, refined carbohydrates in particular. They also look at fats. Are they good at turning dietary fats into blood fats? There is no one size fits all approach. They look at a whole host of micronutrients. They can see if you are a fast or slow metabolizer and what does that say about how your use coffee. We can look at a predisposition to celiac disease. We can see if you are an efficient de-toxifier. 

[00:28:05] Brad asks about how people react when they get their report. There is so much information out there and people have been searching for the right answers. Learning what is in their DNA often validates their experience. For example, in Mark’s report, it indicated that he was prone to tendon injury and, sure enough, Mark has struggled with that problem his whole career. Many people see their results and say, “Yes, that is what I have thought.” Other people say, “I didn’t know that. I never thought that.” It is very personal and can become a very strong motivator. For example, some may need to eat more broccoli than others because it creates a certain enzyme that their body doesn’t make. It’s more effective than just having someone tell you, “Broccoli is good for you.”

[00:30:34] Brad asks about what their data base shows about people with excess body fat having carbohydrate sensitivity, or people who run 100 meters for GB in the Olympics having a huge proportion of power vs. endurance. There are a couple of key genes that you can make correlations with. On the body fat side, there are definitely some genes that are associated with a propensity to becoming obese. The FTO gene for example, is sometimes talked about in the media as the “fat gene.” It is not as simple as that. The FTO gene is a protein associated with fat loss or obesity in humans. One study found that 70% of the people with the AA version of this gene are more likely to be obese. They are not entirely sure of why that is, but one of the reasons is thought to be that the A version codes for the creation of ghrelin creates a larger hunger response. For those with the obesity-associated AA version, ghrelin levels stayed relatively high even after eating. Moreover, the AA individuals reported a faster increase in hunger after a test meal. The important thing is that they don’t make any single association with a single gene. They take all genes into account and learn how they interact with each other.

[00:32:20] If somebody is a very high responder to carbohydrates, then they need to be particularly aware. Very low responders to carbohydrates seem to say they never have a problem putting on weight. Andrew describes how genetically he has very high response to carbohydrates. He tells of eating in the Olympic Village in Beijing when the other athletes were eating pasta, he ate salad because of it. He had to maintain his weight and knew he couldn’t eat pasta at that time.

[00:34:03] In The Primal Blueprint, Mark talks about genetic predispositions but not necessarily in dictating your destiny. In other words you can figure this out for yourself and then optimize your own personal circumstances by going for the salad instead of the Chicken McNuggets, like Usain Bolt did at the Olympics. It is about adding this into the picture with every other piece of information, just as you would measure your heart rate or how heavy you are now. The reassuring thing about genetics is that genes don’t change but your lifestyle can. You don’t need to do a test every six weeks like blood tests. Remember this, bearing your report in mind, when you are making health and dietary decisions.

[00:35:01] The report comes with beautiful infographics with charts and details about your food sensitivities and recommendations. When the person gets tested and gets this report, where do they go from there? What are the resources? How you use your genes is completely in your control. They provide the reports of fitness and nutrition, and they give them as much information about their genes as possible so they can take that information and make decisions for what actions they can take. In the UK, there is a network of personal trainers, fitness professionals, and nutritionists who are educated in using genetics in their specialty. There is a growing network in the US as well. They are non prescriptive. They do not say exactly what the individual should do. They try to arm people with the best education they can. They can suggest how to tweak what they usually do based on that new knowledge.

[00:37:04] Back to Andrew’s story: After an incredible showing in Beijing Olympics and looking forward to the next Olympics, you knew you wanted to improve by a half second over the next four years. It was a daunting task. Brad compares the story of two time Ironman champion, Peter Reid, who went off after his great victory and won a narrow battle with American Tim DeBoom. He decided that wasn’t a comfortable enough margin for him so he proceeded to get into a serious over-training program that cost him a couple of years of his career with an assortment of illnesses and wipe-outs. Brad asks, “In pursuing that half second, you radically modified the training that had taken you to the very top level in the world and went down with mono and the Achilles injury. Do you attribute those to your increased emphasis on explosive power training that you hadn’t done previously?” Andrew says he wouldn’t contribute the Achilles to that. He has always had chronic problems with the Achilles. There are also biochemical reactions as well. The mono is a question. He’s not sure if that load was too intense or just that he stopped playing to his strengths. The margins of victory or failure are so fine. He feels he just stopped training properly.

[00:40:05] Andrew received his report and he is now looking at 2016. He reports that he has made some good changes and is feeling hopeful. 2014 was his best season since Beijing. He’s going to Beijing for the world championship in 2015 in the same stadium. He is expecting to be well under 45 seconds. He is running some 5Ks as part of his training now.

[00:41:45] Brad asks if he is considering the 800-meter race considering that he now knows he has the endurance gene? He used to run cross-country as a youngster but has no desire to run 800. Even though he knows he has the gene, he knows his goal is the 400-meter.

[00:42:42] The average person is served well by this program. If you are sensitive to carbs or caffeine and having those in your diet make you feel lousy, it might be a good opportunity to look at your habits and life goals. You can make some modifications based on your genetics, even though it might feel like a sacrifice. It is not trivial if you don’t feel good. Making a change with the education you get is good to try.

[00:43:42] Go to DNAFit.com to sign up for a top level test for about $400. An entry level test is around 99£ or $150. You order a kit. It comes by mail. You take a swab and send it back. Allow about two weeks from receipt of your sample to receive your results online. You can also personally pick up your results. Of course there is after-sale support to help you to understand your results. The information you take away from here differs from a blood test because genes don’t change and your blood chemistry will change as you change what you do. You can use this information for the rest of your life. You can find Andrew on Twitter at @andrewsteele. He’ll be happy to answer any questions!

BONUS:

Andrew is offering Primal Blueprint Podcast listeners a discount! Order the Fitness Diet Pro Kit from DNAFit.com, use the code PRIMALBLUEPRINT for a 30% off, bringing the price from $399 to $279.

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