Nature and Nurture

I’m almost finished with a book called the Sports Gene by David Epstein…..I had the opportunity to read it on my way home from the NYC Marathon. It was the perfect time to read such an interesting book!

The book focuses on whether talented athletes are born with their talent or if they arrive at greatness through hard work and practice. Epstein is essentially challenging the 10,000 hour rule, and for those of you unfamiliar with this rule – it claims that the key to success in any field is a mostly practicing a specific task for around 10,000 hours.

As most of you know, I have always been an advocate that hard work yields greatness, however I must admit Epstein’s argument has made me thinking a bit differently. Why are some women able to run a 3 hour marathon while only putting in recreational level training time? Why do some soccer players get injured more than others? Why are the best sprinters coming from Jamaica?
Although much of the book is spent examining undeniable genetic gifts, (i.e. the vision and brain of a baseball player, the achilles tendons of a jumper, the wingspan of a basketball player, the hips and legs of a sprinter and distance runner.) if you read further, you will begin to see an unexpected theme emerge, it is not nurture or nature – but both. It is through economic incentives, cultural institutions, practice/training programs that an athlete is nurtured.

Although the book did not focus on nutrition; it is a critical part of an athlete’s performance (or any human performance). We know that a number of genetic variations have been shown to increase the susceptibility to diet related disease. What does this mean for training and nutrition? Will health professionals be able to provide genetically tailored training and nutrition programs?

For now if your current training program is not working for you (injuries, not building muscle, plateau) it is time for a change. Perhaps it is good that I am officially retired from marathon training – given my lower legs and hips are not exactly genetically gifted, perhaps it’s time to try something more physically suited for me!!!