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VO2 Max is your aerobic capacity and it’s normally tested on a treadmill or on a bicycle. It’s a measure expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min), translating the peak oxygen uptake during a maximal cardio effort. It is a key factor in determining one’s training performance, that is why it is used by many athletes to calculate their level of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.
Imagine that you run as hard as you can, eventually hitting that point where you couldn’t possibly do it harder – that’s when you reach your VO2 Max.
Highs and lows
VO2 Max results vary considerably from person to person. There are several elements that are used to test your VO2 Max like your weight, height, body fat, age, gender and level of activity. But unless you’re doing something to maintain your level of VO2 Max, it will deteriorate over time. So, let’s focus on your overall activity effort factor.
Being less active usually means having a low VO2 Max, which strongly predicts one’s risk of dying from heart attack or stroke. The good news is that you can improve your VO2 Max values with training. So, the less fit you are, the more chances you’ll have to increase your VO2 Max and start seeing the changes even at a cellular level.
Elite performance athletes generally have high VO2 Max values, as they maintain an intense level of cardio activity. The downside is that if you already are a fit athlete, you’ll find it difficult to increase your VO2 Max. This happens because your VO2 max is conditioned by your genes and you may be already too near to your genetic potential.
Your genetic variation is well connected to your VO2max and overall aerobic potential. There are several genes that influence and count for your training responses. For instance, HIF1A gene encodes a protein that is an important regulator of the body´s response to a low oxygen environment. When oxygen is lacking, this protein starts the process of making new blood vessels and red blood cells which will increase oxygen delivery. It is also a regulator of glucose metabolism, a central source of fuel during anaerobic or power-based exercise.
There is an inherent disparity in the VO2 Max capabilities of different individuals and a great proportion of a person’s capacity to get a high VO2 Max is defined by their heredity, while their ability to improve it, is certainly dependant on physical activity. So, stay strong and go train more often!