I often hear people blame their weight on their genetics. For some, they “can’t put weight on.” For others, they “can’t keep weight off.” They use their Great Aunt Stacy as a reason why they gained 20 pounds in college and never got it off. And now they’re 30.
Here’s the thing: Genetics DO play a factor in your shape among other things, but they’re not the end all be all of getting into good shape. They’re really just a roadmap for how to get where you want to go. Here’s what you need to know…
About fat – It turns out that there are certain genes that increase fat storage. They have confusing names, so I won’t bore you with the specifics, but recent research shows that there is a correlation. However, a maximum of five percent of our genes are responsible for this relationship. Which isn’t nearly close to the huge surge in obesity we’ve seen in the past 20 years. Also, having those genes doesn’t make you fat. Having them is only 50% of the equation when we’re talking about these specific genes. Your behavior (AKA what you eat) has to also be unhealthy in order for your genes to get you stuck with too much weight. Again, the genes alone won’t make you fat.
The second part: your genes DO affect where you store fat. I’m sure you’re familiar with the different body types more commonly referred to as apple vs. pear. The technical names for these are ectomorph (lean and long with difficulty building muscle), endomorph (big with higher body fat and a tendency to store fat) and mesomorph (muscular with a high metabolism and responsive muscle cells). These are determined by your genetics.
Here’s the good news: exercise can actually change how fat is stored. Research has shown that six months of regular exercise can deactivate certain fat cells.
About muscle: Your genetics determine two things that affect your ability to grow muscle. The first is your muscle fiber ratio. Your genes determine how many fast-twitch fibers your muscles have, and these (as opposed to slow twitch) have a greater capacity for growth.
This isn’t uniform throughout your body, either. Most people have more fast-twitch fibers in certain parts of their bodies and fewer in others. For example, I personally have more in my triceps and traps. Because it’s so easy for me to build muscle there, I have to limit the exercises I do with those muscles so they don’t grow out of proportion. On the flip side, I have a hard time growing my butt, so I have to double up on leg exercises each week to maintain the muscle mass in my lower body.
Genes also determine your levels of anabolic hormones. These hormones regulate muscle growth. Resistance training increases these hormone levels, but women have 10-to-20 times less of it than men (which contributes to why women can’t get bulky by accident).
Knowing all of this information just helps you figure out what your genetic strengths and weaknesses are. Everyone is different. By knowing how, you’re able to map out a plan for how to accomplish your goals. The other info here also points to the overwhelming advantages of resistance training and healthy eating no matter your body type. So, quit hiding behind Great Aunt Stacy (literally), and maybe even bring her to your next gym sesh.