Are you wasting your time taking HMB (short for: β (“beta”) -hydroxy β-methylbutyrate)?
HMB has been touted as being able to reduce muscle soreness; promote increases in muscle mass and strength; and prevent muscle protein breakdown (i.e. anti-catabolic) (Gepner et al., 2018; Kerksick et al, 2018).
(Anti-catabolic – hence loads of research into it’s potential use in clinical conditions that involve muscle wasting, e.g. cancer; liver disease; and sarcopenia, which is normally associated with aging, and causes a loss of muscle and strength (Holeček, 2017; Oktaviana et al., 2019; Osuka et al., 2019)).
So check this out:
1. HMB is a metabolite of leucine
Leucine which is an essential amino acid (Hector et al., 2018), and for those of you who are all over it, you’ll also know it’s one of the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs – leucine, isoleucine and valine) (Osmond et al., 2019)! Leucine is a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis (-building muscle) (Hector et al., 2018; Kerksick et al., 2018).
2. HMB is produced in the body from leucine
About 5% of leucine is converted to HMB. And an average 70Kg person can make approx. 0.2-0.4g per day depending on how much leucine is in their diet (Bagchi et al., 2019).
3. HMB comes in two forms – HMB-FA (free acid) and HMB-CA (calcium),
Research into the FA form is relatively new compared to CA (Wilson et al., 2013a), but it seems to have more promising results for factors such as improving muscle recovery from resistance exercise, muscle mass and strength (ODS, 2017; Silva et al., 2017). Plus more is absorbed and at a quicker rate than HMB-CA (Kerksick et al., 2018). More research is required.
4. Leucine is more effective than HMB
…at stimulating muscle protein synthesis and improving strength (Jakubowski et al., 2019).
5. HMB versus creatine
Protein, essential amino acids, creatine monohydrate and HMB have all been categorised as muscle building supplements (Kerksick et al., 2018).
Creatine monohydrate has had a vast amount of research completed on it over many years, and is one of the 5 recommended sports supplements (Thomas et al., 2016), unlike HMB.
6. 1.5-3g HMB dosages has been recommended
…in split doses through the day (Kerksick et al., 2018) and having 6g per day isn’t going to get you better results (Bagchi et al., 2019) – “more isn’t more”!!
If you wanted to try to do the “Food First” thing (choosing food options before reaching for the supplements), then you’d have to eat about 600g of high quality protein to get the right about of leucine to produce a 3g dose of HMB (Wilson et al., 2013a)!
7. When to take
ODS (2017) states 1-2g HMB-CA 60-120mins before exercise, or 1-2g HMB-FA 30-60mins before exercise (- because HMB-FA supposedly absorbs quicker (Kerksick et al., 2018)).
The JISSN Review (2018) recommends three equal doses (1g each) taken at breakfast, lunch/pre-exercise and bedtime to optimise HMB retention.
Supplement companies may recommend something different. For example, 2 capsules with breakfast, 2 capsules after exercise and at bedtime. Or 2 scoops before exercise and 2 scoops after exercise.
Supplement companies may not have completed any actual research on their products, but used research to guide their recommendations for use of their products.
8. HMB side effects
There doesn’t appear to be any safety concerns using 3g per day, for short term use, in young or older people (Holeček, 2017; ODS, 2017; Wilson et al., 2013a).
Several studies have used HMB for up to 12 weeks with no reported side effects (Durkalec-Michalski et al., 2015, 2016, 2017).
9. Currently HMB is NOT one of the 5 evidence-based ergogenic (performance enhancing) aids
(Thomas et al., 2016).
More recent research and review articles still show mixed or negative results (Maughan et al., 2018; Rahimi et al., 2018; Sanchez-Martinez et al., 2018; Valenzuela et al., 2019), from an exercise nutrition perspective (rather than a clinical perspective), so it isn’t currently recommended.
You’ll find blog articles and supplement companies promoting it, because, well, from what I’ve seen, the authors of the blogs are all selling HMB supplements so obviously they’re not going to slag it off! And the same of the supplement companies – they’ve got products to promote and sell.
But. Research isn’t conclusively dismissing HMB. For example, the JISSN Position Stand from 2013 (- a bit dated now) (Wilson et al., 2013a) and their Sports Nutrition Review (Kerksick et al., 2018) both suggest there’s growing evidence to support that it could be beneficial.
Compared to, for example, the IOC Consensus Statement (Maughan et al., 2018), that basically states benefits are minimal for strength and fat free mass improvements and “steroid-like gains” are unlikely. And… the Position of Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine (2016) don’t even mention HMB! – it’s not in their list of evidence-based supplements.
More info about dietary supplements and the 5 key evidence-based supplements in this post:
10. HMB potential benefits
Because of the inconsistent results for HMB, and the fact that several studies have been challenged, e.g. the one by Wilson et al. (2013b) by other researchers (Gentles et al., 2017; Phillips et al., 2017), it isn’t routinely recommended at the moment until more evidence is available. But if you did want to try it, the potential benefits may include:
- Enhanced lean mass
- Enhanced strength
- Enhanced adaptation to exercise
- Improved recovery from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness – sore, tight, achy muscles after training!)
(Kerksick et al., 2018)
💪 Here’s another one for you….
11. Save your money. Protein is likely better than HMB.
(Maughan et al., 2018; Rawson et al., 2018).
Protein use in exercise nutrition has been extensively researched and there’s always new papers being published on this topic.
The same results could be achieved by taking protein or leucine (Rawson et al., 2018), instead of HMB with it’s inconsistent results that could potentially waste you money because it might not work.
If you’re savvy with your diet, and the amounts and timings of your protein intake, you can meet your protein requirements from your regular foods, even if you’re training like 10 men.
It’s more of the convenience and practical aspect of food versus supplements, rather than not being able to get enough protein in your diet.
The bottom line…
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This is all my own opinion and by the way, I’m not suggesting you take this supplement, or any other supplement – I’m just trying to screw the nut for you by giving you this information, so you can make an informed decision about supplements.
It is crucial to get your food and fluid intake right if you want to control your IBS symptoms, and if you want train harder, go faster and recover quicker from training sessions and competitions. Dietary requirements are highly individualised and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Working with a Registered Clinical & Sports Dietitian to develop a bespoke plan based on your unique requirements will help to ensure the most appropriate strategy and best results are achieved.
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new treatment or health care regimen, or before making any changes to your existing treatment, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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