Olympic medalist Andrew Steele knows that our current knowledge about genetics isn’t enough to give complete predictions about health.
Nevertheless the company where he is Head of Product, DNAFit, is one of a number of organizations drawing on genetic data to give customers advice about their diet and exercise regimen. For £249 for the complete package, it uses a customer’s DNA sample to create a personalized profile which provides diet and training advice that it believes best suits them, according to some limited genetic studies.
“There’s no scientific proof that this can be a prediction — it’s just learning more about you so you can better reach your goal,” Steele told Business Insider.
Speaking on the concept of DNA testing, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, told Business Insider reporter Kevin Loria, “The tests are fun but their usefulness has yet to be shown,” adding, “I’d rather spend the money on good dinners.”
A position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offered the same sentiment, stating: “The use of nutrigenetic testing to provide dietary advice is not ready for routine dietetics practice.”
Nevertheless, DNAFit has worked with several high-profile clients such as Greg Rutherford and the Egyptian National Football team. It’s also used by trainers at some David Lloyd gyms, and the company is an official wellness provider for employees of LinkedIn.
Still, Steele said the core of its business is now “ordinary consumers who take the DNA swab test at home.”
With that in mind, we tried it out. Scroll down to see how the process went.
I’m Ali, Business Insider UK’s Lifestyle Editor. I’m pretty interested in everything health and fitness, so when DNAFit, the company that uses DNA samples to produce personalized exercise and nutrition reports based on a person’s genetic makeup, offered me a free trial of its services, I happily obliged.
After making a profile on the DNAFIt website, I was sent a kit that looked like this.
It contained a swab pack with clear instructions, along with some information on the company, privacy, and code of practice.
I took a sample of my saliva from my inner cheek, and sent it back to the lab. It takes around 10 business days to process, according to the company, though mine was a bit shorter.
While dietitians say that genetic testing that aims to provide dietary advice isn’t ready for routine use, DNAFit claims that its tests pass a “strict inclusion protocol” and any advice they give has a corresponding “modifiable lifestyle change you can make.”
When my results were ready, I got an email.
I received what looked like pretty comprehensive reports on both nutrition and exercise — a package that normally costs £249 — as well as a detailed overview presented in an infographic. It was a hard to interpret, however.
At a consultation with head of product Andrew Steele, who also happens to be an Olympic medalist for GB in the 400m sprint, he helped break down my results.
During a rough patch in his career, he met Avi Lasarow, now the CEO of DNAFit. “He was talking about this new venture looking at the science behind response to training and nutrition, and the results spoke personally to my experience,” he said. He discovered that 99% of sprinters have one version of a gene that he didn’t have. Steele says he used that knowledge to inform the way he trained and massively improved his performance.
Steele took me through my own exercise report, which claimed to show how I respond to training, injury, and recovery.
The most interesting aspect for me was the Power/Endurance Profile, which apparently showed how I respond to training intensity. Steele said my results suggest that have some of the gene variants which show an improved response to higher intensity workouts — such as sprinting — but I also showed a positive response to endurance training.
I work out about 4-5 times a week. Steele said based on my report, two of my workouts should be on the higher-intensity end of the spectrum — heavier weights and less reps, or HIIT training — while two should be on the lower end — steady state cardio, or gently changing intervals. While that might sound like it’s tailored to my genes, it’s also the same advice most exercise physiologists give to most people.
Next, we moved onto my nutrition results, which claimed to reveal how I respond to things like carbohydrates, fats, salt, alcohol, and caffeine. Again, my results were basically in line with the majority of nutritional advice.
I was told I had 2 gene variants that mean I can likely get away with eating more carbohydrates and fats than most people. In certain cases, this type of information is why a dietitian might find a DNA test useful — certain genes may indicate a basic intolerance for foods like lactose or caffeine, and genes that are common among people with obesity might help explain why a person struggles to regulate their eating. The problem is that most people are already aware on some level of how their body reacts to certain foods.
DNAFit also provides a meal planner component that delivers recipe ideas that are allegedly tailored to a customer’s genetic needs. They’ve also teamed up with restaurant Vita Mojo, which allows for completely personalized orders, from the amount or fat and carbs to the number or calories or grams of protein.
Whether or not using DNA to tailor meals will be key to their success, Vita Mojo’s co-founder Nick Popovic told us the goal is to open more branches of the restaurant to make its services more accessible. “Personalization can be done by flavor, ingredients, macronutrients — calories, protein, etc — or diet types, like paleo or caveman,” he said.
Back to the report. We were close to the end, but I was curious about my alcohol and caffeine reports. “Have you ever heard the phrase a glass of red wine is actually good for you? In your case, it’s certainly true from a genetic angle,” Steele said. Again, drinking small amounts of wine — such as one glass a week — is a recommendation that’s been supported by numerous scientific studies on the matter, and may not necessarily have anything to do with my genes.
As far as caffeine goes, I was somewhere in the middle again. “If you don’t drink over 300mg of caffeine a day — two filter coffees — that’s fine,” said Steele. This also lines up with most generally recommended health advice on caffeine. The Mayo Clinic maintains that the daily maximum for caffeine is 400mg for an adult.
So, the feedback given to me was similar across the board — strike a balance of different types of training, of carbs and fats, and alcohol and caffeine in moderation. Essentially the lifestyle I already aim for. “Genetics isn’t destiny, but it is opportunity,” Steele said. “It gives you the opportunity to make more personalized choices and decisions and tweak the bit you can control — the environment side,” said Steele. “What it doesn’t do is determine or control what you can and can’t do or will or won’t be. Nothing on its own does that.”
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