Supplements ~ Ribose

Ribose is a naturally occurring substance found in every living cell, and foodstuff we eat.  It's an integral part of the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule and is therefore integral to you being able to produce energy to pedal your bike. 

Before you delve too deep in to this supplement factsheet you may wish to take a quick look at the Anaerobic Capacity factsheet to better understand how vital ATP is to your energy production. 

So, is ribose supplementation important to your energy production?  Read on to help you draw your own conclusions.

What is is it?
Ribose is a simple, five carbon sugar, a monosaccharide found in all living cells.  It's generated in the body from glucose.  Ribose is also the starting point for the production of ATP and is a vital cog of the DNA wheel.  So it's importance to life and energy production is right up there with oxygen!

D-Ribose, the supplement, is a white powder, that's water soluble and is produced from the fermentation of corn syrup.  It's almost tasteless, relatively inexpensive and a little can go a long way.

First, a little, not-too-heavy, science.  You'll often see carbohydrate written in journals or sports books as CHO.  That's because carbs are built around combinations of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules.  As you can see above, Ribose has 5 carbon molecules; Glucose has six, C6H12O6 and Maltose has twelve, C12H22O11.  Most -ose compounds are sugars; fructose, galactose, sucrose, glucose etc.  So when looking at the labels on your food, energy bars or drinks look out for the "ose's" and try not to think of the Two Ronnies (apologies to our non-UK readers).

What does it do?
It's thought that taking D-Ribose as a supplement dramatically speeds up the ATP regenerative process. 

Natural ATP regeneration is a slow process due to lost enzymes in the Pentose Phosphate Pathway.  These lost enzymes prevent ATP regeneration from glucose metabolisation; once the enzymes have been replenished ATP regeneration can begin. 

To give nature a hand we can use ribose to bypass the Pentose Phosphate Pathway and speed the synthesis of nucleotides to form ATP without waiting for the slow enzyme balance to be restored.  That bit seems a bit heavy but we'll explain here in real terms what it means.

ATP ProcessEnergy production within our body comes from adenosine triphosphate (top) being converted to (bottom) adenosine diphosphate.  The energy conversion process revolves around the loss of a phosphate molecule, not from any activity of ribose. 

Ribose forms part of adenosine; which is made up of adenine and ribose.  But it's purely a transport medium and an enabler rather than "the" energy constituent.  Think of adenosine as the delivery truck and the triphosphate as the cargo of fuel.

Research has shown that ribose supplementation increases the manufacture of ATP in skeletal muscle by anything up to 430%.  Ribose can also improve the salvage and re-use of ADP by as much as 700%.  Which seems impressive but does that help us as athletes?

Ribose has been shown to:

increase the manufacture of ATP in skeletal muscle
change perceptions of effort required
change levels of fatigue endured
stimulate release of adrenaline
affect the workings of cardiac muscles

All the above is well and good but we need to ask, how does a 430% increase in skeletal muscle ATP help me?

How does it do it?
The body stores all around it approximately 75 grams of ATP which it uses to produce energy.  To get a handle on how much ATP is required, around 15,000 grams (15 kilos) per hour is processed to produce the energy we use in competition.  So a fair proportion of the molecules in those 75 grams get a right hammering when they have to drop and regenerate a phosphate molecule many thousands of times a minute when exercising hard. 

It's little wonder that some get "lost" during the process which makes them unavailable for further energy production.  Which may lead to fatigue or at the least a reduction of effort.  The reason we "lose" molecules is a little too heavy to go in to here, please just accept that you wont have at the end of your effort all those you started with.Foden Fuel Tanker

It is thought that ribose helps the body to manufacture more adenosine frameworks, the enablers of phosphate transportation.  The more trucks there are available, the more fuel can be delivered. 

As we said above, some of these fuel carrying frameworks are destroyed or lost during heavy exercise and may take a few days to be replenished.  Ribose supplementation can increase and speed up this regenerative and replenishment process quite significantly, preparing the body for further effort, sooner.  With supplementation, full replenishment can be seen in 6-22 hours. 

It's been claimed that during prolonged, strenuous activity, the availability of more adenosine frameworks sustains ATP availability and allows longer energy production or increases the time to exhaustion.  The theory behind this is sound but what of the practicalities?

It may be probable that having more ATP available doesn't necessarily mean you have more power.  Just as having more fuel in the tank of your car doesn't make it go faster.  But it will make it go further.

How can it help me?
Research studies have proved ATP concentration is brought back to normal levels more rapidly with ribose supplementation than placebo taking control groups.  Which would suggest that you could be ready to go again sooner than if you had not taken the supplementation at all.

As we explained earlier, when ATP use is higher than the level at which it can be regenerated there is a decrease in fuel carrying adenosine frameworks by as much as 32%.  Without these transport frameworks performance and the subsequent recovery are noticeably reduced.

Replacing lost adenosine levels back to a baseline naturally, can take several days.  With supplementation this can be reduced to hours. 

One noticeable factor I have experienced, is that on a Monday, after two, hilly, four hour Saturday and Sunday rides, I can run upstairs without the leg pain and burn I previously used to suffer until a Tuesday.  This is purely anecdotal, but for me it works; and my Tuesday sessions don't have that "leg-stinging" first 10 minutes of burn.

So for me, I've seen a definite improvement in recovery and have experienced less perceived effort towards the end of my longer endurance rides. 

What is the dosage required?
Ribose has been seen to produce the desired effects with as little as 3-5 grams per day.

Ribose can be taken as a daily supplement.  However, I take 5 grams mixed in water (it very easily dissolves) straight after a training session and on my endurance rides I put 5 grams in each water bottle.

What should I be aware of?
In extreme cases, over 50 grams per day, there have been incidents of "gastric distress".  I don't believe any of you reading this would be foolish enough to think if a little is good a lot must be better.  Everything in moderation.  So stick to the dosage indicated and you won't be wasting your money.

Be aware of claims that ribose is the new creatine it's not.  They do completely different things.

However, Creatine is a perfect supplement to take with ribose because Creatine Phosphate is where the phosphate comes from that attaches to the adenosine diphosphate to make it adenosine triphosphate.  Still with me?  And if you remember, it's the losing of the phosphate molecule that drives the muscles.

Take ribose for recovery and creatine for power.  I'd recommend mixing the two only during very heavy bouts of interval training.  And never take creatine for any longer than you have to.

There have been no peer-review journals that support ribose as an ergogenic aid that increases performance in relation to power.  And to be honest, most manufacturers have never claimed that.  Just be aware what you are buying and why you are buying it.  That way everyone wins.

Take Note:
This article is neither an endorsement or a condemnation of the subject of this article or any other supplement use.  It is here to allow the reader to draw their own informed conclusion. 

Do your research and if any doubt consult a physician before undertaking any supplement regimen.  Never take more than the stated dose and never mix any drug or supplement with alcohol.  Always check that you are not contravening any sporting code, ethics or permitted levels for your sport before undertaking any supplementation.

Where can I get some?
Pedal Power are stocking Torq Ribose; and Torq energy bars which themselves contain ribose.

A 500 gram tub, which could last for 100 training sessions, is less than the price of a racing tyre at 30.  At just 5 pence per training session isn't it worth a try?  What can you get for five pence these days, I don't even think you can get five, penny chews anymore!