J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

DNAfit Revisited

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Back in 2014 I reviewed the diet aspect of the DNAfit genetic analysis service. Recently DNAfit contacted me again to give them some feedback and potentially review the latest iteration of their services, and this time offered me the full package (diet and fitness recommendations, and a one-on-one consult with an expert to interpret my results).

Pricing

I was offered the services for free, but I did check out the pricing structure. Here’s the DNAfit page of various package options. All the packages strike me as being priced on the high-end for casual consumers, but potentially worth it for professional athletes. $399 for the complete fitness and diet reports is high, especially considering that you need to pay an additional fee to go over your report with an expert (which I think is probably a good idea for most people — I’ll get into that below).

As a benchmark comparison, 23andMe offers its Ancestry + Health reports for $200. The services offer different things, but it’s worth noting the significant pricing difference. To be competitive in the U.S. market, DNAfit might need to get cheaper.

User Interface

I had real issues with the earlier iteration of the DNAfit user interface when I first reviewed the service two years ago. They’ve come a long way. Gone are the awkwardly unfolding panels, replaced by a much more intuitive page-based interface.

The top level view looks like this:

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While the page view looks like this:

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And the “Learn more” button expands into this:

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My main criticism of the interface is that the user comments — all of them — are visible under each page, and you need to scroll all the way to bottom before you can navigate to the next page. And there’s no way to hide the comments! IMO this is a major flaw and they should fix it ASAP. It makes quick page-to-page navigation impossible.

Except for the comment issue, I like the new interface. It’s clear, sufficiently compact, and generally intuitive.

Research

I’ll get my major criticisms out of the way quickly. I wasn’t satisfied with the research provided by DNAfit in round 1, and I still find it lacking. I don’t think they’re making up recommendations out of thin air — everyone I’ve interacted with at the company strikes me as earnest, responsible, and sincere — but why can’t I drill down to research results directly from the gene analysis subsection? When I click “Learn more” I want access to all the details. On which studies are the recommendations based? Just a single study, with a small sample size, or multiple studies with hundreds or thousands of subjects?

I did ask about this, and I was forwarded to this page, which does link to six specific exercise physiology studies at the very bottom. A good start, but they must be basing their nutrition recommendations on scientific studies as well. Where are they? Why not link to the studies from the report interface?

Maybe DNAfit doesn’t want to overwhelm their customers with data. But since they seem to be aiming their services at high-end athletes, I would think that providing this additional information could only enhance the credibility of their recommendations.

Great Information, Well Presented

Overall the DNAfit content is great. The writing is informative and concise, the science clearly explained, and presented in the context of a bigger picture of health that includes a multitude of factors (not just genotype).

I would say the general DNAfit approach is “Given your fitness goals, what methods will most likely get you there most efficiently, given your genotype?”

Some sport and athletic events emphasize very specific types of performance, like sprinting or marathon running. The top Olympic sprinters will likely have the CC variant of ACTN3. But for most of us, our genetic variants simply dictate what kinds of training we will best respond to, not which sports we “should” be doing. One of the interesting aspects of the DNAfit report is the Power/Endurance profile. Those with a strong Endurance bias will respond less well to HIIT, and will get the most benefit from long runs or rides. Those more in the middle (like myself) will respond well to a mix of high intensity training and higher volume endurance work.

This kind of analysis is much more comprehensive than 23andMe, for example, which simply characterized me as a “likely sprinter.”

The “Professional” level diet report includes the following categories:

  • Optimal Diet Type
  • Carbohydrate & Saturated Fat
  • Detoxification Ability
  • Anti-Oxidant Requirements
  • Personal Vitamin & Micronutrient Needs Salt, Alcohol & Caffeine
  • Lactose Intolerance Coeliac Predisposition

while the “Fitness Premium” report includes these categories:

  • Endurance / Power profile
  • Aerobic potential (VO2 Max)
  • Post-Exercise Recovery
  • Recovery Nutrition
  • Injury risk

One-on-One Consult

As part of my complimentary package I was offered a one-on-one “Expert Consultation” (which currently sells for £89 via the DNAfit online store). I made an 8am Skype appointment with Tom, an exercise physiologist and cyclist who was currently training in the Pyrenees. For over an hour, Tom took me through every aspect of my personalized report, and answered my nutrition and training questions. I found the consultation useful — Tom clarified a number of points, and going over the reports one-by-one made me realize I’d missed a few important details. For example under “detox ability” I had thought I had high ability to detoxify HCAs and PAHs (from grilled meats), but in fact I have a high ability to generate those compounds (not good). Fortunately I hadn’t gone on an all-BBQ diet.

Other Features

DNAfit provides the ability to compare aspects of your own genotype to those of several Olympic athletes. This feature comes without much explanation, but I eventually figured out what I was supposed to do, and learned that my “performance genetics” are quite similar to Olympic track and field athlete Andrew Steele (my results are on the left).

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I think the point of this feature is to reassure DNAfit clients that genotype is usually not a limiting factor in terms of athletic performance — training regimens make all the difference. Genotype should be considered in optimizing training approach, not in considering ultimate potential (at least for most sports — performance extremes like the 100M dash and marathon running favor athletes with a power or endurance bias, respectively).

DNAfit also offers a subscription-based meal planner (£5/mo.), which I haven’t tried.

Overall Impression

I’m really into this kind of thing — I completely enjoyed getting into the details of how I might respond genetically to various training regimens and diets (even though I’m not much of an athlete — mostly I walk, skateboard around town, do a few dumbbell sets, etc.).

Aside from the room-for-improvement areas mentioned above (pricing, UI details, providing better access to research), I had a great experience evaluating the DNAfit service. I would recommend it without hesitation for professional athletes who aren’t on a tight budget, and really to anyone who is curious and can easily afford it.

I did forward my feedback to DNAfit, and heard back from Andrew Steele, Head of Product (who I assume is one and the same as the Olympic athlete). Andrew informed me they are working on a new build due early next year that should address at least some of my concerns.

I hope you found this write-up helpful. Let me know what you think in the comments, especially if you have tried the service yourself. I’ll try to answer any questions as well.

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7 Comments

  1. Will you change anything in response to this analysis?

    • I’ve already added more high-volume/low-weight sets. Feels good! Tom said I would most likely respond very well to drop-set training, so I’ve been starting with one set with heavier dumbbells, then doing a whole bunch of reps with the 15lbs ones.

  2. ross

    Thanks for posting your results. Be aware of this:

    https://www.statnews.com/2016/11/03/genetic-testing-fitness-nutrition/

    • Thanks for sharing that article Ross. Genetic testing services are still in a bit of a “wild west” phase, but I found it notable that DNAfit was willing to back up their conclusions and recommendations with detailed evidence. I’d read the same on Mark Sisson’s site.

      Comforting to know that at least the SNP analysis (the actual genetic data) lines up with the different services.

      • One other point — there’s an expectation among some consumers (and the author of that article) that genetic tests will somehow “tell us why we’re special.” By definition only a small minority of people have exceptional or rare genetic profiles. Evolution has edged human beings towards generalization, and it’s rare to find a human being that is perfectly genetically optimized for a particular activity. The author’s expectation that these tests might tell her why she excelled at softball (a “generalist” sport that does not demand a certain body type) strikes me as ridiculous.

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