By Sanika Natu:
Do you have any distant memories of your school’s annual sports day? Do you remember those short distanced races and the disappointment of not being fast enough? Or for some fortunate ones, the memories of being the first to cross the finishing line? Contrary to what some of the commercials claim, the reason for that sheer pleasure of being faster than your mates weren’t some energy drinks or shakes. The reason to sprint faster was within our predetermined framework.
The human body is a complex structure with approximately 639 skeletal muscles and 206 bones in an adult. Each skeletal muscle is made up of bundles of individual muscle fibers called myocytes. Each myocyte consists of strands of proteins that grab onto each other and result in muscle contraction. The medical science has classified these muscle fibers into 2 types- slow twitch muscle fibers and fast twitch muscle fibers. The slow twitch muscle fibers are considered to be efficient in using oxygen through an aerobic process. They generate energy for continuous muscle contraction over a long period of time. On the other hand, fast twitch muscle fibers generate energy through an anaerobic process and hence, they act as a catalyst for short bursts of energy or speed over a shorter period of time. Studies claim that these distinctions have been the prime reason for certain people to excel in certain sports. One may be an exceptional marathon runner while other might be a swift sprinter. As far as ultra marathons and bicycle rallies are concerned, the slow twitch muscle comes into play. This type of muscle fiber fires up slowly but can go for a long time. It eventually helps in reducing the amount of fatigue in athletes while running a marathon or bicycling for hours. As opposed to this, fast twitch muscles fire up more rapidly and therefore prove to be an asset to a sprinter. They provide the short distance runners with instant burst of energy but also act as a cause for the fatigue that follows.
Human body generally contains a genetic mixture of both the types of fibers for muscle movement. Medical scientists have found majority of human bodies to have an equal amount of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. But in case of marathon runners the percentage of slow twitch muscles is considered to be around 80 % unlike that in sprinters or weight-lifters. Scientists say 70 per cent of Jamaican athletes including Usain Bolt are considered to have the fast twitch fiber. This difference in the genetic make-up of our body determines our body’s reaction to physical activity and training. Eventually it partly determines what kind of sport we are good at. But the question is- does our heredity alone define our ability to jump or jog? Though our genetic make-up vastly influences our capabilities, our environment is equally important. Nature and nurture both play an even role in determining our personal attributes. Some may lack the genetic potential to excel in sports but just the right diet, training and exercise can endure performances, while a genetically potential candidate for the Olympic glory may fritter away at the cost of insufficient exercise and unhealthy lifestyle.
Moreover, scientists have found a relation between athletic performances and a gene named ACTN3. This gene is supposedly responsible for existence of fast twitch or slow twitch fibers in an individual. With Sports Gene Tests coming up across many countries including India, determining your ability to excel in a particular sport wouldn’t be difficult any more. And then perfect environment could be impeccably provided according to one’s own heredity. That day might not be far away when little kids go through such tests before being enrolled by their parents to toil through exhausting training sessions. And as scientists keep giving us such innovative tests and techniques to ponder over, some of us just might get the reason for not doing so well at our school’s annual sports day!