Genetic Traits Muscle Performance

Scientists have known for decades that many factors contribute to muscle growth and fitness in humans. Two of the most prominent factors are genetics and environment. While environmental factors (such as exercise and diet) are fairly well understood, researchers are just starting to scratch the surface on understanding how genetics play a role in muscle performance. Research into the relationship of genetics to muscle performance is important because it will open up the door to identifying ways to influence muscle growth, fitness, and flexibility by enhancing or counteracting chemical interactions in genes. This will be very useful because, coupled with diet and exercise, they can truly reach their potential in maximizing muscle performance and, possibly, reduce the impact of muscle-related diseases.

When most people think of genetics and muscle performance, the idea of genetic engineering for optimum muscle performance comes to mind. However, body builders arent the only ones that would benefit from a better understanding of the genetics of muscle performance. Research would also benefit those with muscle-related diseases and disabilities, the elderly, and others with muscle problems.

Biology of Muscle Performance

Researchers who are interested in the relationship between genetics and muscle growth and fitness are looking to identify genes that have a high impact on muscle metabolism. Muscle metabolism refers to physical and chemical processes by which a particular substance is handled by the muscles, either by incorporating it or by excreting it. The process of metabolism maintains the muscles and produces energy.

Genetics of Muscle Performance

Scientists have found that genes can have an important impact on metabolism by causing the body to increase or decrease the presence of chemicals and proteins that influence muscle performance. Once the genes that affect muscle metabolism have been identified, efforts can be made to activate or deactivate them, depending on the desired outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions about Genetics and Muscle Performance

Q: Why would the study of genetics be important in enhancing muscle performance in people?

A: The more we know about muscle performance, the more we can enhance it. Many people such as the elderly, ill, or disabled can not exercise adequately, and the possibly of altering genetic factors to enhance muscle growth and fitness is very compelling. Researchers know that genetics plays a role in muscle performance, so the goal is to better understand what genes are most influential and how they function.

Q: If scientists better understood the role genetics play in muscle performance, what muscle-related diseases could be impacted or even cured?

A: There are many muscle-wasting and atrophy diseases — such as muscular dystrophy, fibromyalgia, and diseases related to the aging process — that can possibly be controlled through genetic engineering. It may be possible to create gene therapies that will reduce the effects of these debilitating diseases.

Q: Will genetic engineering replace the need for exercise and dietary interventions in enhancing muscle growth and fitness?

A: It is not likely, at least in the near future, that activating or deactivating genes will replace the need for exercise and a healthy diet in promoting muscle performance. However, research into the role of genetics on healthy muscle development will certainly enhance what we can already do to optimize the overall health of people.

Q: Is genetic engineering (such as that that affects muscle performance) messing with “mother nature” and not safe for people?

A: There are ethical questions that will need to be addressed regarding genetics and muscle growth and fitness. The idea of genetic engineering leading to a “super race” of people (or proving harmful in ways we do not anticipate) is troubling to many people. As with similar issues, such as cloning and facial transplants, the consequences of moving forward will need to be examined and debated.

Recent News on Genetics and Muscle Performance

Scientists at Dartmouth College have identified a gene that has a major impact on muscle metabolism and performance. The gene activates an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) that has a direct impact on optimizing muscle activity. The scientific team bred a mouse that genetically showed AMPK in an active state, and the mouse demonstrated an increased capacity to exercise. They also found that the mouse was storing an elevated amount of muscle glycogen, which many athletes seek to store before events to enhance performance. Scientists believe that their research may lead to new ways to enhance muscle performance in humans and also to treatments for muscle diseases.

Scientists recently discovered that genetics can have an important impact on the performance of back muscles, especially those related to lifting. The evidence suggests that rehabilitation from some back injuries may not be as successful with more traditional exercise programs, and that genetic interventions may need to be explored.

Researchers from the Institute of Neuromuscular Research have discovered that a protein called alpha-actinin-3 may play an important role in muscle growth and function, especially with female muscles. There is a deficiency of this protein in a significant percentage of people which does not cause disease or affect functioning. However, for high or extreme performance situations such as those with speed/power competitors, it could make an important difference. Researchers found that all female and Olympic athletes studied had this protein, suggesting that it is necessary for high performance.


Ropponen, A., et al. (2004). The role of genetics and environment in lifting force and isometric trunk extensor endurance. Retrieved June 27, 2009 from the Physical Therapy Web site:

Dartmouth College. (2006). A gene that enhances muscle performance identified by Dartmouth researchers. Retrieved June 27, 2009 from the Medical News Today Web site:

The Childrens Hospital of Westmead. (2005). Alpha-actinins and skeletal muscle performance team. Retrieved on June 27, 2009 from The Childrens Hospital at Westmead Web site: