Genes and Athletic Performance: An Update

Med Sport Sci. 2016:61:41-54. doi: 10.1159/000445240. Epub 2016 Jun 10.


Humans vary in their ability to achieve success in sports, and this variability mostly depends on genetic factors. The main goal of this work was to review the current progress in the understanding of genetic determinism of athlete status and to describe some novel and important DNA polymorphisms that may underlie differences in the potential to be an elite athlete. In the past 19 years, at least 155 genetic markers (located within almost all chromosomes and mtDNA) were found to be linked to elite athlete status (93 endurance-related genetic markers and 62 power/strength-related genetic markers). Importantly, 41 markers were identified within the last 2 years by performing genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of African-American, Jamaican, Japanese, and Russian athletes, indicating that GWASs represent a promising and productive way to study sports-related phenotypes. Of note, 31 genetic markers have shown positive associations with athlete status in at least 2 studies and 12 of them in 3 or more studies. Conversely, the significance of 29 markers was not replicated in at least 1 study, raising the possibility that several findings might be false-positive. Future research, including multicentre GWASs and whole-genome sequencing in large cohorts of athletes with further validation and replication, will substantially contribute to the discovery of large numbers of the causal genetic variants (mutations and DNA polymorphisms) that would partly explain the heritability of athlete status and related phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Athletic Performance*
  • Genetic Association Studies*
  • Genetic Markers*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Physical Endurance / genetics


  • Genetic Markers