Written by Peter McGough
03 February 2015


It's Official: Ronnie Is A Freak

Science Has Confirmed It



     Introduction: At the 2013 Olympia Expo, the expert team at MuscleGenes did the first-ever DNA profile of eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman. In a subsequent research paper, they analyzed how his genes determined how he responded to different forms, volumes and frequencies of exercise and what genes contributed to his amazing ability to build muscle. Just as importantly, MuscleGenes also examined how his unique gene profile affects his ability to burn fat and metabolize different foods. Here are some highlights of the report.

Ronnie’s Training Genes!

     One of the most interesting genes for bodybuilders looks to be ACTN3. According to MuscleGenes scientists, this gene is most associated with an individual’s ability to develop strength and power. In fact, it is so crucial for these attributes that every single Olympic 100-meter runner ever tested has had a particular version of this gene! As with all of the core genes tested, ACTN3 can have three potential results. Ronnie has the variation of this gene that would be expected to result in the greatest production of a muscle protein called alpha-actinin 3. This protein plays a role in making muscles more resistant to damage. ACTN3 also upregulates anabolic signaling pathways in response to resistance training, including increasing testosterone.

     Research shows that when males with Ronnie’s version of ACTN3 lift weights, they recover better than those with the version of the gene that doesn’t make alpha-actinin 3 in their muscles, and their muscles super-compensate and get stronger. Because of this, his training history and other gene variants Ronnie possesses, his MuscleGenes report recommended that he can train more often than other ACTN3 gene variants. So that’s one of many things that Ronnie was already doing that the science of genetics would indicate was the right approach for his genes.

Ronnie’s MuscleGenes Report

     From Ronnie’s gene report, it is fascinating to see that not only is he a responder to higher volume, more multi-set resistance training, but he has a gene variation that was shown in research to result in 11 times greater muscular endurance in response to a weightlifting program as compared to the “low-volume responders.” Of course, this correlates exactly with the way Ronnie trains and what he has found works best for him in the gym— higher reps, more sets, shorter rests and descending sets to “exhaust the muscle” (as Ronnie puts it). So again, it appears that Ronnie has continually analyzed what kind of training works best for his personal gene profile and found the answer!

     Here’s what Mark Gilbert (chief content officer of MuscleGenes and a veteran of the fitness industry) had to say on this topic: “When we got Ronnie’s results back from the lab, we were hugely satisfied to see that he had exactly the types of results we would have expected. For people with his gene variants, we recommend the highest volume and the most frequent training sessions. So in fact, Mr. Coleman was probably such a successful bodybuilder at least partly because he learned how to train in a way that was optimal for his genetics. If you think about it, this is the best explanation for the long-standing controversy over what is the single best way to train. The reason scientific studies haven’t been able to prove that high-volume is superior to low-volume or vice versa over the last 20+ years is because different people with different gene variants respond to different training loads.”

Ronnie Is Thermogenic

     Thermogenesis simply refers to the burning off of calories as heat. It can be achieved by increasing protein intake or taking certain supplements. By burning off calories as heat, those calories will no longer be available to be stored as fat and so, all things being equal, this results in decreased body fat. A key thermogenic pathway in the body is via uncoupling proteins (UCPs). It’s a bit complicated, but UCPs can burn off excess energy as heat instead of the usual route of using that energy to make the body’s energy molecule, ATP. The key gene that affects your uncoupling and therefore thermogenesis is UCP2. Anyone who’s seen the deep striations in Ronnie Coleman’s muscles and read about his outrageously high carb intake won’t be surprised to know that he has the most “thermogenic” variation of UCP2. He also possesses other gene variants that are associated with having less body fat.

Ronnie’s Diet Genes

     Ronnie Coleman generally consumed a fairly standard very high-protein, fairly low-fat diet as bodybuilding diets go, but as we discussed briefly earlier, he could handle huge quantities of carbs without putting on undue amounts of body fat and looking sloppy. It is well known that his coach, Chad Nicholls, put his client on as many as 2,500 grams of carbs some days during his preparation for the 2003 Mr. Olympia and even when he switched to contest-dieting phase, Ron would often get his carbs up to 900 grams and even a weekly “carb-load” day of 1,900 grams! Now some of those carbs were oats, but the majority of them were grits, potatoes and junk, which he needed just to hit those lofty carb intake targets. Well again, Ronnie seems to have evolved his diet through trial and error, and arrived at what works for his genetic makeup.

     As Mark Gilbert explains: “One of the many things MuscleGenes can test for and advise upon is carb sensitivity. Several of the genes we test determine insulin function, and studies show that people who have poor insulin function have a hard time losing body fat unless they watch their carb intake. This is true even if they eat a low-calorie diet that would otherwise work for people with good insulin function. So again, it shouldn’t surprise us to find out that Ronnie’s gene report reveals that he has three of the ideal variants (out of a possible four), which most powerfully predict insulin function (his fourth gene variant is neutral). This puts him amongst the highest 5-10 percent of subjects we’ve tested for insulin function.”


     So there you have it, the first look into the genes of a Mr. Olympia and perhaps the best bodybuilder of all time, Ronnie Coleman! As expected, he possesses all the genes necessary to develop muscle strength and power but just as importantly, he paid close attention in the early days to what kinds of strategies worked best for him. A big part of that strategy was doing brutal, high-volume workouts that included exhausting drop sets and pounding each muscle group at least twice per week. In his numerous interviews over the years, he has stated that he figured out that these types of training practices worked best for him early on in his bodybuilding career, and he has stuck to them ever since. He’s even stated that he thinks this is genetic, and that this type of training is suited to him personally but may not be right for everyone. His genetic testing and recommendations from MuscleGenes seem to provide the science to back up exactly what Ronnie had already discovered for himself, and it is frankly amazing that he was doing so many things that science has since showed were optimal for his genetic profile!