No matter who you are, there are probably two things you hate to waste: time and money. There’s no place where we would rather see a return on investment more than in our time spent working out. Many people are lacing up shoes, signing up for races, and hitting the workout scene with the same goal: a strong finish to a Spartan race. HMB has long been seen as a potential way to improve results from workouts. But what exactly is HMB? Is it safe? Does a supplement really provide benefits?
The amino acids glutamine, arginine, and leucine all play a role in the body’s ability to reduce breakdown of the muscle cells following periods of intense activity, strength training, and during chronic disease states such as muscle wasting due to cancer. The branched-chain amino acid leucine, in particular, plays various roles in the body including protein metabolism, glucose homeostasis, insulin action, and exercise recovery. HMB, otherwise known as beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, is a metabolite of leucine that helps reduce protein breakdown, thereby retaining muscle strength and assisting with improved body composition. HMB studies have indicated potential ergogenic benefits such as anti-catabolism as well as anabolic and lipolytic effects.
Put simply, supplementing with HMB may help decrease muscle protein breakdown and increase lean body mass, improve overall body composition, increase strength and endurance, and maximize the results of training.
But Does It Work?
A review in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism compared multiple studies on the efficacy of HMB supplementation. The study reviewed HMB supplementation in groups involved in powerlifting, basic strength training, and endurance, among others. Additionally, the studies included both experienced and inexperienced athletes, identifying which population showed the greatest gains from HMB use. Many of the studies supported evidence of HMB’s effectiveness as an ergogenic aid; however, there are other studies that conflict with those findings.
Human studies are a place to start, but can be a challenge because so many parameters can affect results. Take for example your own situation. How motivated are you? How consistent is your training? How much sleep did you get last night? Is your job stressing you out? All of these components will play into how successful any added training component will be.
Can HMB Be Obtained in Food?
Since HMB is a product of leucine, and leucine is an amino acid, it can be found in some foods (grapefruit, catfish, alfalfa). However, since only a small percentage of leucine is converted and used as HMB, the amount you would have to eat would be quite large.
How Much and How Often?
HMB in a supplement form is more concentrated. Most studies use three grams of HMB, while some indicate up to six. The half-life of HMB (meaning how long it remains effective in the system) is relatively short, and age, body mass, and gender all affect half-life. A range of two to six hours is most commonly observed. Given this factor, it is suggested that splitting up the doses throughout the day may provide most benefits. For example, you might take some first thing in the morning before a strength training session for increased performance, another dose mid-morning to reduce muscle catabolism following your training session, and the final dose in the evening to prevent muscle catabolism overnight.
HMB is taken as a tablet, powder, or in capsule form.
Regardless of where you are in your training and what your goals may be, it is important to keep in mind that no supplement can overcome unhealthy behaviors. Before starting any supplement with the goal of improving performance and body composition, it is important to ask yourself these questions:
- Am I eating enough whole foods to support my level of activity?
- Am I hydrating my body?
- Am I getting enough consistent sleep at night for my body to recover?
- Have I started a training plan that my body is ready for and can progress from in a healthy way?
Because in the end it comes down to these basics:
- Eat real, whole foods
- Prioritize sleep
- Train smart
- . . . Then go spend your money on supplements
Kleiner, Susan. Power Eating. 4th ed. Human Kinetics, 2014.
Memorial Sloan Kettering. “HMB.” www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/hmb.
Skolnik, Heidi, and Andrea Chernus. Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance. Human Kinetics, 2010.
Wilson, Gabriel J., Jacob M. Wilson, and Anssi H. Manninen. “Effects of Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB) on Exercise Performance and Body Composition across Varying Levels of Age, Sex, and Training Experience: A Review.” Nutrition & Metabolism 5, no. 1 (January 2008): 1, https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-5-1.