Exercise and Nutrition: what is happening at the gene level?

You work hard, train every day (sometimes twice a day), you take care of your diet, and rest appropriately – all with the hope that you will recover faster and perform better.  But what makes this process possible?  Or more importantly, what is really happening at the gene level and what can you do to optimize it?

MitochondriaAs a general rule, muscular growth and metabolic efficiency occur gradually over a prolonged period even with the most carefully planned and well executed training and nutritional schedule.  During this gradual period many changes take place that allow the muscular and metabolic system to adapt. These changes are called macro-adaptations. Published research findings indicate that these long-term muscular macro-adaptations result from continuous short-term changes at the gene level that are called micro-adaptations [1].

According to this research, the micro-adaptations in the muscle start appearing at numerous metabolic genes [2].  These genes increase the number of mitochondria, the small organelles that produce energy and boost the metabolic activity.  In other words, exercise induces the change of hundreds of metabolic genes that eventually improve metabolism.

Researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland, monitored 220 genes as part of a 30 minute near max bout of cycling [3].  The genes related to carbohydrate metabolism and mitochondria increased between the 0hr and 1hr recovery time. The same metabolic genes, after a small dip at 8hrs, continued to increase again till 24hrs after the end of the workout test. This means that metabolic changes in genes continued to take place even after 24hrs from the end of the exercise.  Another earlier study from researchers at Yale University School of Medicine looked at a smaller panel of metabolic genes and also showed that after a 4hr bout of cycling exercise, changes of genes happen not only in the 1hr time window but also in the 2hr to 4hr time window [4].

The above results indicate that in the muscle, hundreds of metabolic genes change in the short term, during the recovery phase (from 1hr till 24hrs after the end of a workout). These exact short-term changes (micro-adaptations) at the gene level underlie the long-term changes (macro-adaptations) in muscular growth and metabolism.

Do you know that you have the power to optimize these gene changes?

You can do so by optimizing your nutrition after your workouts and throughout the day alike. Good nutrition can aid metabolism and good metabolism means good regulation of metabolic genes. Since your metabolic genes change after every workout then optimal nutrition can ensure optimal metabolic gene changes.

Fueling immediately after the end of your workout can enhance these metabolic gene changes.  For example, a serving of Ultragen is perfect to start optimizing the metabolic gene changes.  Also, proper hydration, consumption of high-density nutrient foods and daily use of a product like Multi-V can deliver more efficiently high quality micro-nutrients to the hard working muscle cells.

Train persistently and consistently, fuel your muscular cells right, and you are on the optimal path to maximize your muscle metabolism, growth and adaptation that can ultimately result in better recovery and better performance.

Loukia Lili Phd


1.         Blazevich, A.J. and N.C. Sharp, Understanding muscle architectural adaptation: macro- and micro-level research. Cells Tissues Organs, 2005. 181(1): p. 1-10.

2.         Fluck, M., Functional, structural and molecular plasticity of mammalian skeletal muscle in response to exercise stimuli. J Exp Biol, 2006. 209(Pt 12): p. 2239-48.

3.         Schmutz, S., et al., Endurance training modulates the muscular transcriptome response to acute exercise. Pflugers Arch, 2006. 451(5): p. 678-87.

4.         Pilegaard, H., et al., Transcriptional regulation of gene expression in human skeletal muscle during recovery from exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 2000. 279(4): p. E806-14.

2 replies
  1. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    There’s a big jump leap-of-faith here from what happens at the gene level to fueling your body post-workout. It would be nice to complete the picture and describe how post-workout nutrition affects the gene changes – from how different fuels, or lack of them, improves or inhibits the gene changes and in what way(s).

    • Loukia Lili, PhD
      Loukia Lili, PhD says:


      This is a well stated point. Describing how post-workout nutrition may affect gene changes could be an interesting research subject on its own. The purpose of this article however was to demonstrate research findings from the literature that emphasize the gene changes at various time points after the end of a workout. From the molecular and genetics standpoint this is something that had always been speculated in the past but it was really demonstrated only the past decade (using high-throughput molecular techniques, like microarray technology that can monitor the expression of genes over the whole human transcriptome at one instance).

      To satisfy your scientific curiosity though, I can say that any metabolic alteration (from nutrient overload to starvation, just to mention the extremes) does affect the gene expression. You can look at the literature to find evidence for the above, but here is a good paper, where the authors state:

      “… the results discussed in the present review demonstrate that amino acids, by themselves, can, in concert with hormones, play an important role in the control of gene expression ”

      And here is the link of the paper with title:

      “Amino acid regulation of gene expression”

      Please do not hesitate to contact us back if you have further questions on this matter.

      Train Hard, Fuel Right!


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