Nrf2 and Sports Endurance: Are you Born to Run?

NYC Marathon 2008 - the winner! Brasil

NYC Marathon 2008 – the winner! Brasil (Photo credit: Marcos Vasconcelos Photography)

Are you born to run? It’s that time of year to focus on goals to achieve or resolutions to keep. It doesn’t matter if you are professional athlete or just a weekend warrior, we all want to improve our performance. A research study conducted by Physiological Genomics shows the role of NRF2 in high endurance athletic activity.

The study discovered that elite endurance athletes such as marathon runners and high endurance athletes were more likely to have higher levels of the NRF2 gene than elite sprinters. Even those that would not be considered elite endurance athletes showed higher NRF2 genetic variations when compared to sprinters, although the difference was not as stark.

Future studies will need to be undertaken to establish a cause-effect relationship. Does the existence of higher NRF2 activation improve athletic performance or vice versa?

The researchers of this particular study investigated the NRF2 gene because they followed previous studies which have shown that NRF2 may play a role in endurance performance for the following reasons:

  • Nrf2 helps produce new mitochondria. Mitochondria are key cellular structures that produces energy within the cells.
  • Nrf2 is a powerful reducer of the harmful side effects of oxidation and inflammation, which increases during exercise. What was interesting in this study is that it seems to indicate that NRF2 protects the body more from the higher strain and damage caused by the increased oxidative stress and inflammatory response that occurs with acute exercise.

The Study
This study closely examined 155 elite track and field athletes. These athletes had competed in either national or international track and field competitions. The group was divided into either an endurance group (10,000 meters and marathon runners) or a sprint group (100- and 200-meter and long jump). The control group consisted of 240 non-athletic healthy individuals.

The study discovered that in particular, two variations in the NRF2 gene (NRF2 A allele and NRF2 C/T genotype) occurred more often in endurance athletes than in sprinters.

“So,” concludes Eynon (the researcher in this study), “some of us are truly born to run.”

For more information on the NRF2 Endurance Study: http://jap.physiology.org/content/107/1/76.full

 

 

 

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