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The Resurgence Of HMB


A once-neglected supplement reveals its power in research.

In Muscle & Body’s December issue, a reader asked columnist Dave Hawk what HMB was and why it was added to his protein mix. “HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate),” according to Hawk, “is a metabolite or by-product of the amino acid leucine that works extremely well in the body as an effective anticatabolic agent by reducing cellular [muscle] damage and preventing protein breakdown.”

Pro bodybuilders, strength athletes and even hospitals (for example, in the use of cancer patients) have been using HMB for decades because of its positive anabolic effects on lean body mass and strength gains. Specifically, HMB has been shown to “produce an important effect in reducing muscle damage induced by mechanical stimuli of skeletal muscle,” according to a study published in the journal Amino Acids in 2011. In resistance training, HMB has been linked to an increase in skeletal muscle mass and strength, making it a top supplement among bodybuilders and powerlifters.

Lab Results Reveal Strong Effects

The United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Ala., referenced a study in which HMB, in combination with intense resistance training, was orally administered to groups of untrained individuals. Research results showed a reduction in exercise-induced proteolysis (breakdown of protein to amino acids) and body fat with an increase in total body strength and fat-free mass.

The study (Nissen, et al., 1996) determined that after two consecutive experiments in which healthy, untrained males ingested increments of 0, 1.5 g and 3 g of HMB daily, while weightlifting three days per week for three weeks, followed by a second round of testing where HMB doses were doubled while weight training two to three hours, six days a week for seven weeks, showed positively staggering effects on anabolic stasis.

According to a review of the first experiment published on the website “HMB decreased plasma markers of muscle damage and protein degradation in a dose-dependent response with a range of 20–60%.” The amount of weight lifted by these individuals increased, as well as total lean body mass “with each increment increase in HMB ingestion.”

According to the same review, the second experiment, in which the HMB doses were doubled and weight training increased, resulted in a significant gain in lean body mass. “HMB participants increased their 1-repetition maximum bench press by an average of 15 lb, compared to a 5-lb increase in non-supplemented groups.”

Nissen told “HMB may be part of some structural component within cell tissue and membranes by covalently binding to cell membrane components and increasing their structural integrity.”

It’s plausible that HMB has been positively associated with aiding intense exercise because it has been suggested to reduce the “catabolic state following intense resistance training instead of [having] a direct effect on muscle anabolism,” meaning, as Hawk said, less damage to the muscle and a lesser chance of decreased protein absorption.

HMB has also been cited for its connection to the amino acid leucine. Leucine is crucial during protein synthesis, and HMB has been suggested to allow for greater use of the amino acid by the body.

Consider the fact that hospital wards have been using HMB for years to preserve lean muscle mass in immobilized patients, such as cancer patients, who are more likely to lose mass during treatments such as chemotherapy. The same use of HMB has also been shown to prevent muscle loss associated with auto immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The elderly are also proven to benefit from HMB (in combination with the amino acids arginine and lysine). According to a 2008 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, “HMB supplementation in 31 untrained elderly men and women during an eight-week resistance program resulted in increased body fat lost, and greater upper- and lower-body strength.”

Giving HMB A Try

If you find yourself ready to head out to GNC to pick up some HMB supplements, let’s talk about how much you should be taking. Research suggests “taking 3 g of HMB daily for maximal benefit,” and according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “available evidence suggests that HMB supplementation is safe, and may potentially improve several markers of health.”

There have been conflicting reports on whether HMB really is as beneficial in aiding athletic performance as research suggests. One study in particular found “no significant decrease in markers of muscle damage, fat mass, increased LBM or 1-repetition maximum performance in any of the lifts measured in the placebo or HMB supplemented conditions.” However, it is important to note that these test subjects were not monitored during the experiment, so you’ll have to perform your own trial and error on the supplement to see if it works for you.

As always, consult with your physician before starting any new training or supplement regimen.

One of the top trainers in the world, Mackie Shilstone has worked with such sports superstars as Roy Jones Jr., Serena Williams and Bernard Hopkins. You can learn more about Mackie by visiting his website at

Link: Muscle&Body Magazine