Are Your Genetics Hijacking Your Workout Results?

Want to know the truth about the genetic lottery, and what it means for you? 

If you’re anything like me, you may have a mild obsession with workout culture and the outrageous results it seems to produce for the elite few. In the age of social media it’s hard not to be lured into Instagram feeds filled with glimmering abs, those 6 minute workouts you bookmark because you’re “totally” going to do that later, and endless promotions to buy someone’s workout plan or nutrition guide so that you, too, will be able to achieve a body that is the source of envy for everyone you know.   

While doing some recon work on what the latest #Fitstagram routines included, I noticed something unusual in the sea of abs and flexed biceps. A woman happily seated behind a massive ice cream sundae, of which she had clearly demolished a significant amount.

Sure, this woman still had a body that looked as though it was carved from stone, but what was interesting was that rather than the usual guilt ridden caption suggesting she had “earned” the meal, or that it was a misnomer “cheat treat”, this gal boldly stated she eats like this all the time, and has a notorious sweet tooth.

The Secret to Having Killer Abs WITHOUT Skipping Dessert?
A quick scroll through her feed confirmed that this was not a one-off occurrence. 90% of the images were glamour shots of this outrageously fit and downright adorable human being happily gorging on a calorie-bomb, and skipping gym days when she felt like it. 
 
A healthy outlook, no doubt. But, for those of us who grew up in mindset that being fit requires a strict regimen of workouts, vegetables and shame, this obviously came as quite a shock; as the comments demanded to know: 
 
“What are you doing in your workouts to be able to get abs like THIS while eating like THAT?”
 
Her answer? “I don’t really do much for my abs. I’ve just got good genetics.” I rolled my eyes, and sent the post along to a few friends who reacted similarly. But a few weeks later, I began to notice how many times I was beginning to see the word “genetic” pop up on various fitness posts as a “results may vary” disclaimer to their success story. 

Are We Destined to Failure Because of Our Genetics?

There are two sides to understanding this narrative. 
 
On the one hand, it is a noble attempt to dissuade the viewer from unrealistic body goals and obsession with a level of physique that (for multiple reasons) may not be available to them. It tells the viewer not to hold themselves to the standard being presented to them on the screen, and that “monkey-see-monkey-do” tactics most likely won’t produce the same outcome.  Not to mention, citing “genetic blessing” effectively releases the content provider from any associated guilt and responsibility they may hold for the affect of their role in social media. 
 
On the other, it creates a divide. Rejecting the multitude of variables for why one may not be seeing their desired results, and boiling them down to one single attribute that is out of our control – the genetic jackpot. 
For those of us who already feel our gene pool is the equivalent of a swamp where something we cannot see is continually pulling us under, there is nothing more devastating than to hear that our deepest fears are true.
That we can’t fight the natural order, and we are destined to be exactly as we are – “too this”, “too that”, and unable to ever have Jennifer Aniston’s calves. 
 
Giving credit to genetics has the capacity to create a feeling of being less than, simply because the genetic deck supposedly wasn’t stacked in our favor. 

What New Research Science “Nutrigenetics" Means for Your Workout

So, what is the truth? Are genetics actually a dead end for your summer bod goals?
 
According to Chris D’Adamo assistant professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine, “While you may have a genetic predisposition to cancer, hypertension, or some other disease it doesn’t mean you are doomed to having that condition bc of many other factors in your life”. 
 
Genetics matter, but so do a lot of other factors. For example, how much sleep you get, your nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins, and the approach*  you are taking to your workouts. 

* Despite what the final result images on social media would have you believe, achieving “perfection” in bodybuilding involves gaining muscle in a controlled, systematic way by combining a strict diet with a rigorous weight-training regime, and rest. In other words, genetics aside, it is a combination hard work and a calculated science to get those six pack abs.

As far as genetics go, according to a new field of research called nutrigenetics, the presence of certain genetic variants can influence both an individual’s nutrition and fitness. Genetic variants are small changes in DNA that exist between people, and they affect anything from how well we metabolize fats or carbohydrates in our diet, to the efficiency with which we absorb essential nutrients like vitamins.  
 
There are roughly 3,000 genes that make up who you are. A lot of them work together, sometimes in union and sometimes antagonistically. 
 
John Mathers, a professor of human nutrition at the University of Newcastle in New England explains, “There is no one-size-fits all to our dietary needs when it sets guidelines that vary along demographic lines, it is usual to have different requirements according to age gender and physiological state.” 
 
For example, some genes dictate whether someone does better on a low fat or low carb diet. Different people, even identical twins, may respond differently to the same foods. Imagine how much that complicates decades of weight-loss and health advice that we assumed would help us lose weight and develop fewer chronic diseases if we just followed a standard plan. 
 
The same should be said of our genetics when it comes to fitness. All those unique genes, that respond to how we build muscle, how we absorb nutrients, how we recover, all affect the results of our workout efforts. Certain genetic combinations will yield different results to high intensity or low intensity strength training, heavy weight lifting, running, and so forth.
But just because you may not be genetically predisposed to looking like Brad Pitt in Fight Club after a boxing class, doesn’t mean you can’t have killer results.
The way to find success and what works for your body type is to experiment.  
 
The discussion around genetics depict our body’s capabilities as static, but no matter what your body type is –  we are incredibly adaptable. The more that you can expose your body to different types of training, and variety, the more likely it is that you will find things you enjoy and be able to stick with them.
 
When you find something you enjoy, you will continue to do it, and by sticking with it you will become incrementally better. Consistency is the true key to yielding results, regardless of your genetic make up.

Here’s 5 Tips for Creating a Plan for 6 Pack Abs Specific to Y-O-U

1. Mindset
More important than your genetic make up, is how your mind is made up. As the saying goes, “change your mind and your body will follow”. 
 
By setting a deep reason for your goal, you are more likely to stay committed. In order to keep the stamina this purpose should be a frequent, daily presence in your mind. 
 
(eg, maybe you want to inspire your family with your commitment so they will learn to prioritize their health too; or you want to have more energy to play in the park or with your kids after work; or perhaps you would like to get involved with a charity walk in support of a loved one or cause you care about)
 
Remember. No one feels like sacrificing the extra hour of sleep and hitting the gym. But keeping your “why”  helps you stay in the mindset of trading short-term comfort for big-time results. 
2. Build an Owner’s Manual
Body awareness is essential to maximizing your nutrition and fitness efforts. Being deeply aware of your body, and paying careful attention to things like hunger cues, how your emotions drive your movement and eating decisions, and how stress manifests in your body are innate keys to your success.
 
A good tip is to keep a “Foods + Feelings” journal to help you objectively observe and evaluate your eating and exercise choices, and how those choices makes you feel. This is a good first step on the path to self-knowledge because it helps you get the facts and look for patterns, rather than just going by general feelings or concerns. 
3. Stay Motivated
Play! A great way to stay engaged is to keep your workouts fun. Try out different kinds of exercises, like pilates, or trampoline class, or incorporating new equipment in your gym routine such as resistance bands or kettle bells. 
 
Remember to remove as much friction as you can to stick with your schedule. If you’re prone to hitting the snooze button, move the alarm clock across the room so you have to get up!
4. Positive Progress Focus
Results aren’t always obvious when we are working towards a goal, and comparing ourselves to the instagram ideal doesn’t help. It can make you feel like you’ll never get there. 
 
So instead, focus on the positive progress! This can be reflecting on what you are most proud of from the week past, or celebrating what you put the most effort into. Maybe you hit your Macros on five meals in a row, or did one more push up than last week. It is important to celebrate any and all positive progress!
 
Pro Tip: If you’re working with a coach, taking progress pictures and measurements can also be a great way for them to help you track incremental changes. 
5. “Quit Tomorrow”

There’s a concept known as “self-herding” in which we teach ourselves a new behavior by subconsciously referring to what we have done in past circumstances. So when the going gets tough, remind yourself to keep pushing through – Just for today, Just for 5 more minutes. You can quit tomorrow. Trick is, when tomorrow comes, your body will remember your good work and do it again.

Afraid of the Genetic Loch Ness Monster?

Don’t Be. The information you learn from genetics can and should be empowering – but they don’t mean everything. The keys to success are:
 
1. Mind over Matter. Have a clear goal to help you stay motivated even when you don’t feel motivated.  
 
2. Listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to experiment and assess what works best for you. 
 
3. Celebrate YOU! Those little wins may seem unimportant when you compare yourself to others. So rather than focusing on someone else’s progress, compare to where YOU were yesterday, last week, a month ago, a year ago- and take pride in your results! 

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Hey, gal! I'm Tash.
Hey, gal! I'm Tash.

I created the BGW Project after going through my own fitness journey, which took me from a lifetime of being frustrated with how I looked and felt, to being able to harness the power of being in charge of my own health, and loving my own body. I’m on a mission to help other BG’s do the same.

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