Ribose: Heart, Muscle and Energy Food

D-Ribose (C5-H10-O5) is a naturally occurring five-carbon (pentose) sugar. It is found in all living cells and on average, our bodies contain about 1.6 mg of ribose per 100 ml of blood. Ribose is classified as a carbohydrate with a potential energy value of 4 calories per gram. In humans, it is synthesized from glucose and can also be used to make glucose.

Ribose is a constituent of riboflavin (vitamin B2) which helps our cells to utilize oxygen. B2 is water-soluble and contributes to good vision and healthy hair, skin and nails. Riboflavin is the vitamin responsible for the yellow-green fluorescent glow or hue commonly seen in urine after taking a B-complex supplement.

Ribose also plays a structural role in the formation of two very important nucleic acids known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). Nucleic acids are large organic molecules located in the nucleus or central portion of each cell. They consist of basic units called nucleotides which contain 1) a nitrogenous base (purines or pyrimidines) 2) a pentose sugar (ribose or deoxyribose) and 3) a phosphate group. DNA forms the genetic code inside each cell and contains the master blueprint of our hereditary characteristics. RNA translates instructions from the blueprint or template of DNA for transcription into proteins.

Perhaps the greatest and most important role of ribose to the athlete and fitness minded, is its contribution to the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the primary energy source for muscular contraction and without ribose, our cells cannot manufacture ATP. So to fully appreciate the significance of ribose, one must first understand the importance of ATP, a very special nucleotide molecule indispensable to life.

Adenosine Triphosphate

King of Energy

ATP is the ultimate energy currency that generates the power and life force behind all performance. It is harvested from the food we eat through oxidation, and because only small quantities are stored in each cell, it must be continually resynthesized at a rate equal to its utilization. The average person can “bank” up to 100g (3.5oz) of total stored ATP.

This can supply enough energy to perform at a maximum exercise level for only 4-5 seconds. After that, the body can convert creatine phosphate and glycogen into ATP without oxygen for a brief period of time (like when swimming under water) or convert glucose, fatty acids and amino acids to ATP in the presence of oxygen for an indefinite period, to sustain its biological energy demands.

ATP cannot be absorbed from the blood or supplied by other tissues. It's too large to pass through the cell membrane and its high molecular weight also makes it too large to be absorbed from the intestinal tract. Each cell must make its own ATP from materials delivered from the bloodstream (de novo synthesis) or it can recycle and rebuild ATP through salvage pathways.

In muscle cells the energy released from ATP activates specific sites along the contractile elements, causing the muscle fiber to shorten. As ATP levels decrease through the demands of strenuous physical work, potential maximum muscle contraction also decreases. So an important prerequisite to productive workouts is to start each one with high levels of ATP in your body. Then you have to reinforce good recovery before the next workout by taking the right supplements, eating high quality food at regular intervals and obtaining sufficient rest and sleep.

Ribose and adenine together form Adenosine, the “A” in ATP. Adenosine is linked by high-energy bonds to three (Tri) Phosphates, the “TP” in ATP. The splitting of these bonds liberates the energy essential to all of the energy-dependant activities of the cell. When ATP releases energy, it loses one of its three phosphates forming ADP (adenosine diphosphate, “di” means “two”). Additional energy is also released when the second phosphate splits from ADP. Now reduced to only a single phosphate attached to adenosine, this remaining molecule is called AMP (adenosine monophosphate, “mono” means “one”).

Large amounts of ATP, ADP and AMP are lost during periods of heavy, intense exercise or when cardiovascular conditions cause lowered oxygen levels in the cells. Ribose can help the heart and skeletal muscles recycle and replace ATP, ADP and AMP. Taking 2g of ribose before & after exercise can help salvage more of these important energy molecules crucial to performance and the prevention of work-related fatigue.

In short, ribose is an important carbohydrate that affects energy metabolism and tissue synthesis. But forget food sources because it’s hardly present in food and is destroyed by cooking. As mentioned, ribose is the starting point for ATP production, but it can also be converted to pyruvate, which plays an important role in aerobic metabolism. So ribose is useful for both sprinters and marathon runners, for anaerobic strength and aerobic endurance, both of which depend on ATP for energy, recovery and muscle function.

Ribose: Recovery Aid

In supplement form, ribose not only helps top up ATP levels throughout the entire body, it also reduces the time it takes to restore ATP back to normal resting levels after intense exercise. This is great news for every athlete engaged in training and sport, because efficient recovery is the hallmark of excellent health and good physical condition. Case studies also attribute the use of ribose as a successful treatment for muscle cramping and the elimination of severe stiffness, pain and muscle soreness experienced in response to physical exertion.

If you’re having any problems recovering from strenuous exercise or manual labour (or suspect that you might if you did) analyze the quality and content of your diet. That’s the most sensible and basic place to start, besides a total fitness assessment. Once an ATP deficit is created, it must be restored before you can train again with equal intensity, train with greater intensity or work more productively. RECOVERY is just as important as the stimulus or training affect.

Competitive athletes and bodybuilders tend to focus on exercise intensity by lifting heavier, training harder, reducing rest time or performing more exercise at the expense of body reserve, which over time can lead to a chronic reduction in ATP and the loss of several important micronutrients essential to adaptation. For those who train more than 3 times per week and up to 6-10x, ribose should be particularly effective for restoring ATP levels. It is also very good for sports which require short bursts of speed and high energy, such a sprinting, basketball, hockey, field events in track, weightlifting, powerlifting, volleyball, soccer and tennis.

Training in the deficit zone long-term leads to erosion of the immune system. Performance declines and risk of injury and damage skyrockets. In like manner, a CEO working long hours under constant mental stress, day-in and day-out becomes prone to infection, chronic fatigue, burnout and cardiovascular disease. With prevention in mind, health products like ribose, creatine, glutamine, CoQ10, vitamin E and whey protein can play a key role, especially for baby boomers (born after 1946 and before 1964) and seniors, who can no longer rely on the resilience and coping mechanisms associated with youth.

Don’t assume ribose is exclusive to sport and exercise, because it’s not. In fact its application in sport is relatively new. Ribose is well known in the field of cardiology and has a profound medical application. Ribose improves heart function in patients with heart disease and improves recovery after surgery. It helps the heart and muscles make energy when oxygen is scarce, as in coronary artery disease or conditions associated with diminished blood flow (ischemia). So if you have angina, heart or artery disease, and have been advised by a physician to exercise on a treadmill or walk daily (or else) you should definitely consider the Ribose Advantage.

How much Ribose should I take and when should I take it?

D-Ribose is available in a purified white powder and capsule form. The powder dissolves readily in cold water and has a sweet taste. It is absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream from the oral cavity and the intestinal tract. You can mix it with your favorite creatine beverage or add it directly to your pre-workout, post-workout or afternoon protein/carb shake. If Ribose is mixed with protein and heated, a reaction can occur known as the Maillard Reaction. Ribose acting as a reducing sugar accelerates this carmelization reaction involving the various amino acids in protein. As long as the mixture is not heated there is no chance of the Ribose functionality being affected.

Taking ribose both before and after an ischemic event such as strenuous exercise will increase the benefit. Suggested dosage guidelines vary from a baseline of 2 grams one-half to one hour before exercise and 2 grams after physical activity, up to 5-10 grams, depending on intensity of exercise, volume of activity and body mass. Take ribose everyday to keep cellular ATP levels at their highest. Ribose can also be consumed in solution during exercise with water or your favorite hydration beverage.

For cramping and muscle soreness associated with even mild exercise, a stronger dose of 10 grams is recommended before exercise followed by 4 grams every 30 minutes during and at the end. If this amount works, you can cut back until the symptoms return, at which time you'll discover the optimum dose. On days with no exercise scheduled, ribose should be taken in the evening before bedtime.

Possible Side Effects

A large body of research exists on ribose with approximately 300 published studies. Ribose is naturally occurring and is found in every cell of every living plant and animal. It is water-soluble and passes easily through the urine. Up to 60 grams of ribose per day may be taken without complications; however, at such high doses diarrhea and a slight decrease in blood glucose may occur. In general, no more than 20 grams total per day in divided doses is required to achieve the desired effect.

Ribose is here to stay. Now that production costs are down, you’ll see it combined with other supplements and sold in a pure form. It has enormous potential for increasing endurance and stamina, as 2-5 grams taken before and after each workout can prevent the usual depletion of ATP (10-25%) normally observed in conditioned athletes.

In this day and age, controlled exercise is not an option if strength, muscle tone, wellness and healthy body composition are your concern. But exercise must be combined with optimum nutrition, which I define as the right combination of whole organic food and dietary supplements validated by science, consumed at the right time for the right purpose. This is the only way we can supply the nutrients and fuel needed to replenish, restore and regenerate stress-depleted aging tissue and organs. Failing this explains why long-term adherence to structured physical exercise among the adult population in North America is so incredibly low (<3%).

Motivation (by the way) is a function of incentive born out of necessity and desire. It is fueled by enthusiasm, driven by passion, governed by positive emotion, compelled by logic and sustained with clarity of vision. And it all boils down to one word. ENERGY.

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

As always, stay well and live free!