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Review of Ribose

What is Ribose?

Ribose is a naturally occurring pentose sugar – a pentose sugar is a sugar made up of 5 carbon atoms, rather than the usual 6 carbon atoms found in glucose, fructose, sucrose etc. In animal studies supplementation with ribose has been demonstrated to enhance the recovery rate by increasing re-synthesis of ATP. Following intense or prolonged exercise the amount of ATP (energy molecules) within your muscles, may decrease by around 20-25%, and may take 48-72hours to fully return to normal hours. The basic idea behind ribose supplementation is that it has the potential to speed up the recovery rate.

Who Should Consider Taking Ribose supplements?

Ribose supplementation may be of benefit to athletes looking to enhance their recovery rate and sprint performance.

Summary of Ribose's Phyiological Effects:

  • May aid the re-synthesis of ATP following strenuos exercise
  • No evidence to support enhanced exercise performance

Ribose Research

Ribose plays an important role in the re-synthesis of ATP. Following supplementation, it is rapidly absorbed and is well tolerated at high doses (Gross et al., 1989). Ribose can then be metabolized through the pentose phosphate pathway to form glucose, or transported to muscle cells, where it can enhance ATP re-synthesis. Animal studies have demonstrated that when ribose is administered intravenously the rate of ATP synthesis increases (Zimmer, 1989; Zarzeczny et al., 2000; Zarzeczny et al., 2001).

Some researchers have seen positive results with ribose supplementation. For instance one study found that ribose had a positive effect on the final sprint of a sprint session (Raue et al., 2001) and another found that ribose supplementation helped to protect against a drop in the level of the adenine nucleotide pool (an indicator of ATP re-synthesis) (Gallagher et al., 2001). Hellsten et al., (2004) looked at the effect of ribose consumption (200mg per kg bodyweight) on the rate of adenine nucleotide re-synthesis. They found that following 15x10 sec sprints ATP levels returned to normal after 72 hours in the supplement group but were still lower in the placebo group. However, most research looking at the effect of oral ribose supplementation on human performance has failed to match these results.

At present, there is little evidence that the oral supplementation of ribose will enhance ATP re-synthesis or exercise performance in humans (Eijinde et al., 2001). Most human performance research looking at oral ribose supplementation has produced contradictory results. Research looking at the effect of ribose supplementation on cycle sprint exercise found that sprint performance increased in some subjects but there were not consistent increases in all of the 6 sprints (Bernardi and Ziegenfuss, 2003). In fact, sprint performance only significantly increased in one of the six sprints. They concluded that ribose supplementation did not have a consistent or substantial effect on anaerobic cycle sprinting.

Research by Kreider et al., (2003), looked at the effect of 10g of ribose (per day for 5 day) on cycle sprint performance. Supplementation with ribose had no positive effect on peak power, average power, fatigue, or lactate. However, the ribose group appeared to be able to maintain the same work rate in the second sprint, whereas there was a decrease in the work rate in the placebo group. The researchers concluded that oral ribose supplementation did not affect anaerobic exercise capacity in trained subjects.

Research looking at the effect of ribose supplementation on repeated maximal exercise (Eijinde et al., 2001), found that 16g of ribose was unable to enhance ATP re-synthesis immediately after, or 24 hours after exercise. They found that the consumption of 4 x 4g of ribose resulted in blood ribose levels that were too low to have an ergogenic effect.  Interestingly, the ribose levels used in this study were higher than is normally recommended by nutritional manufacturers, and therefore the levels used by manufacturers are unlikely to have positive effects. They concluded that at these levels ribose does not have a beneficial impact on muscle ATP recovery and muscle force and power output, during repeated days of maximal intermittent exercise training.

In animal studies the level of plasma ribose required to elicit a positive effect is relatively high, at around 4-5mmol/l (Zarzeczny et al., 2000; Zarzeczny et al., 2001). However in humans it is not possible to achieve this level through oral consumption of ribose. Eijinde et al., (2001) found that the consumption of 4 x 4g of ribose only resulted in a plasma ribose level of <0.1mmol/l. They stated that this was conceivably too low to significantly enhance muscle ribose uptake to stimulate purine nucleotide synthesis (the process in which ATP is re-synthesized).

Is Ribose effective?

May enhance ATP re-syntesis following exercise but no evidence of enhanced sporting performance.

How to take Ribose?

At present research is not conclusive about the effects of ribose supplementation on human performance. To date research does not support the use of ribose as an effective performance enhancer. Research shows that the consumption of 16g of ribose, per day, is likely to be ineffective. Therefore the levels in most commercial formula are unlikely to have a sufficient to elicit a positive effect.

Ribose References

Bernardi, J. M. and Ziegenfuss, T. N. (2003) Effects of ribose supplementation on repeated sprint performance in men. J Strength Cond Res. 17 (1), 47-52.