One fairly new supplement on the market being touted as the best thing since the invention of the squat rack is ribose. Companies marketing ribose claim everything from increases in strength and muscle to improvements in performance and health.
What is ribose? Ribose is technically a sugar. There are many sugars the body uses for a wide variety of functions.
Most people know the sugars such as glucose, sucrose, and fructose (blood sugar, table sugar and fruit sugar, respectively). For example, glucose can be found in some fruits and is the form of sugar found in the blood stream, hence the term "blood sugar."
Sucrose is often called "table sugar" as it is the common form added to many foods and is found in the sugar bowl on your table (sucrose is actually made up of glucose and fructose).
Fructose is often referred to as "fruit sugar" because it is found as the dominant sugar in fruit. There are however many other sugars the body uses for countless functions and/or is found in the foods we eat: pentose, xylose, galactose, mannose, ribose, and many others.
Ribose is wide spread among all organisms and is a constituent of ribonucleic acid (RNA) which carries our genetic code. However, ribose is involved in many other functions in the body, including the production of high energy compounds the body uses to do work (i.e. exercise, etc.).
Data suggests that ribose may both serve as an energy source and enhance the production of compounds known as purine nucleotides. It is well established that high energy compounds such as ATP are reduced during and after intense exercise.
The body must resynthesize these high energy compounds during the post exercise recuperation phase and this is where ribose may come into play. By adding in an external dietary source of ribose in high enough doses, athletes may be able to recuperate faster from intense workouts and thus can improve performance and strength from the use of ribose. In studies where the normal synthesis of these high energy compounds is reduced by certain diseases or genetic problems, ribose has looked promising for helping people afflicted with such problems.
However studies looking at healthy athletes showing improvements in strength or performance are lacking with a few small studies completed. It stands to reason that ribose would be of help to both strength and endurance athletes, but how much help and at what dose has yet to be proven.
Several studies with athletes have recently been conducted, and the results look positive, albeit not overwhelming. For example, a recent study with 15 male bodybuilders examined exercise performance over a four week period.
The men were given 5g of ribose before they performed the bench press and 5g following the exercise vs. a group taking a placebo. The study found a statistically significant increase in the number of repetitions performed in the bench press in athletes getting the ribose compared to athletes taking the placebo (5 subjects in the ribose group and 7 in the placebo group).
The number of bench press repetitions performed to muscular failure increased +29.8% ribose vs. +7.42% placebo (p = 0.046) over the 4 week period. Another relatively small study with 16 athletes receiving 10g of ribose and put through repeated sprints had an increase in mean power over 5 days of training (4.2% vs. 0.6%).
Findings also included greater peak power output at the last sprint session (11.4 watts/kg vs. 10.4 watts/kg, p=0.05 time) vs. a placebo group.
However, it's important to note that these are both small studies and neither have been published in a peer reviewed journal (see references).
So where does that leave us with Ribose? For one thing it's overly expensive. For another, it still suffers from a lack of large scale human studies that are published in peer reviewed journals showing it will increase LBM, strength or performance, but it does appear to help people with various pathologies.
It's also my understanding that there are several other studies either just completed or being completed and the results of those studies will be interesting to see. Hopefully they will confirm the limited studies we have. Finally, the optimal dose is unknown, but the studies above used 10g with most people using between 5-20 gram per day.
With some reservations, I am still going to give Ribose a thumb's up as my gut tells me this supplement does have uses for the athlete.
Hellsten-Westing, Y. and P. D. Balsom, et al. "The effect of high-intensity training on purine metabolism in man," Acta Physiol. Scand. 149 (1993), p. 405-412.
Gross, M., B. Kormann and N. Zollner. "Ribose administration during exercise: effects on substrates and products of energy metabolism in healthy subjects and a patient with myoadenylate deaminase deficiency." Klin Wochenschr 69/4 (1991), p. 151-5.
Gross, M, and U. Gresser. "Ergometer exercise in myoadenylate deaminase deficient patients," Clin Investig 71/6 (1993), p. 461-5.
Witter, J. and P. Gallagher, et al. "Effects of ribose supplementation on performance during repeated high-intensity cycle sprints. Midwest Regional Chapter of the ACSM, October (2000).
Gallagher, P. M. and D. L. Williamson, et al. "Effects of ribose supplementation on adenine nucleotide concentration in skeletal muscle following high-intensity exercise," Midwest Regional Chapter of the ACSM, October (2000).
Antonio, J., D. Van Gammeren and D. Falk. "The effects of ribose supplementation of exercise performance in recreational male bodybuilders," Data on file at Bioenergy, Inc., 13840 Johnson Street N.E., Ham Lake, Minnesota 55304 USA.
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