Fatigue and Recovery Genes

Get tired easily during workouts? Too slow to recover?

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Everyone is supposed to get tired from workout out. If you don't, then you are not pushing yourself hard enough, right? It's all true, but there is more to the story. What if your onset of fatigue is way ahead of the curve? What if you get tired before you get enough exercise to meet your fitness goals? What if your body takes so long to recover it's enough to undo the positive effect of your fitness training? DNA science says this situation is possible. Here is how:

The fatigue gene: MCT1

Your muscles will have a diminished capacity for flushing out lactic acid if you possess the “slow lactic acid-clearing” genotype. Lactic acid accumulates in your muscles during intense workouts and, in addition to causing soreness, can cause you to become fatigued. Not surprisingly, this gene variant is rare among endurance athletes who, aside from possessing more slow-twitch fibers, are also more resistant to fatigue.

Inflammation and recovery gene: IL6

When your muscles contract, they release IL6, which is believed to help protect your muscles from damage and improve recovery times. Specifically, a variation of this gene keeps your muscles from experiencing tissue damage following intense muscle contractions. Those who have this specific gene variant generally share the following traits: lower body mass index, narrow waistlines, and better improvements in max oxygen uptake (or VO2 max) after a two-month training period. Conversely, those who have the lower IL6 expression have a greater propensity to gain more weight (especially if they lead unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles) and have a longer recovery period after exercise.

The hack:

Regardless of genetics, if you are getting tired too quickly during workouts, this could be a case of “too much, too soon.” While you cannot change your genes, you can take these steps to minimize the negative effect of your DNA variation and avoid getting early-onset fatigue when working out:

  1. Start with lighter weights when lifting and slow your tempo while you’re still working on increasing strength.
  2. Take some time to cool off and recover when you’re transitioning between sets, reps, and workouts.
  3. Don’t forget to warm up—it’ll help improve your range of motion and keeps you from cramping up.
  4. Try interval training to boost endurance; increasing your oxygen capacity not only keeps your muscles working for longer, it also keeps lactic acid buildup at bay.
  5. Keep hydrated, and make sure to eat a proper, well-balanced, and nutritious diet; if you don’t give your body the fuel it needs to power through intense workouts, it won’t perform as well as you want it to.

And if your body still feels sore days after engaging in an intense workout, you can speed up your recovery time through getting lots of downtime, increasing your liquid (water) intake, and foam rolling.