The award-winning research is a work on genetics that has discovered the correlation of a specific gene, ACTN3, known as the 'speed gene', with an increased risk of muscle injury and decreased physical performance.
The study titled: “Effect of the speed gene in professional soccer. The ACTN3 XX genotype negatively affects running performance and increases the incidence of muscle injuries in LaLiga soccer players”, has Dr. Juan Del Coso Garrigós, from the Rey Juan Carlos University, as its main author, and is part of a group of investigations that seek to shed light on a subject as multidisciplinary and complex as muscle injuries in soccer. This issue has been the focus of the work of the LaLiga Sports Research area in recent years.
The physical performance data was obtained through Mediacoach, the performance analysis and video analysis platform developed by LaLiga and which the organization puts at the service of the 42 clubs. For its part, to obtain the genetic samples, the medical services of eleven LaLiga Santander clubs collaborated: DNA samples were extracted from the players of these clubs to determine the genotype they had in what is colloquially known as gene of speed, together with the analysis of the injury record, also provided by the medical services. The players were classified into three groups according to their genotype in the ACTN3 gene: those with the XX genotype and do not produce the α-actinin-3 protein, a fundamental protein in muscle fiber, those that do produce the protein and have the genotype , RR and those that produce the protein in an intermediate amount because they have the RX genotype.
“This work provides new information on the role that genetics has for physical performance and the probability of injury in professional soccer players. Although we have analyzed only one gene of the 30.000 that we have in our DNA, we have been able to determine that a small variation in DNA can cause some footballers to have a lower physical performance during matches and a greater risk of muscle injury. This does not mean that footballers with the XX genotype in the speed gene have a worse condition to be elite footballers than RR or RX, because on the other hand they may have exceptional technical or tactical quality that is not associated with this. gene. For us, the findings of the work indicate that genetic information may be essential for the individualization of training and injury prevention programs, so that XX players can be specifically trained. In addition, it is important to indicate that genetic information is one more piece of information to know the potential of a professional player, and should not be used as a talent selection tool, especially in soccer, a sport that is so complex and in which so many factors determine that a player can reach the level to be a professional”, says Dr. Juan Del Coso, a researcher at the Center for Sports Studies of the URJC.
“This finding is of great importance so that club professionals can carry out specific prevention programs and special plans to improve physical performance in those players who have this genetic mutation. In addition, it allows clubs and their coaching staffs to carry out à la carte recovery programs and rotations in matches to minimize the risk of injury," says Ricardo Resta, director of LaLiga's Mediacoach area and one of the participating researchers.
A priority: the protection of the health of the players
For more than four years, the group of researchers led by Dr. Del Coso and in which Dr. Victor Moreno - Perez (Universidad Miguel Hernández), Ricardo Resta Serra and Dr. Roberto López del Campo (both from LaLiga's Sports Research Area), have already published two more investigations on injury prevention in high-impact international journals.
The first, “Influence of the Weekly and Match-play Load on Muscle Injury in Professional Football Players” concluded that the players who injured themselves muscularly during a game had accumulated a high workload at high intensity in the previous weeks and in the five minutes prior to injuring themselves. As a result of this discovery, Mediacoach implemented an alert system in its Live Pro tool to notify the exact minute of the game in which each player reached these risk levels. The second, "Reduces Match Exposure in the Previous 2 Matches Accounts for Hamstring Muscle Injury Incidence in Professional Football Players” showed that players who come off the bench have a higher risk of injury than those who play the entire game.
The three investigations show the importance of the scientific approach when treating and interpreting the data. From LaLiga, in collaboration with the universities and the clubs' medical services, special emphasis has been placed in recent years on working hand in hand with scientists and universities to promote the development of knowledge and new technological tools that help club professionals to optimize decision-making with the aim of reducing as much as possible the risk of players getting injured.