New research shines a light back on this largely forgotten supplement
Fitness enthusiasts, strength athletes and bodybuilders took notice when a new supplement, touted as the ultimate means to increase muscle and decrease body fat, hit the shelves in the 1990s. HMB, or for the more scientifically-inclined Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbuteric acid, is a metabolite of the essential amino acid Leucine. It came under the spotlight when subjects in a study showed increased muscle mass and strength gains while training on HMB supplementation.
Researchers have for years been divided on the exact benefits of HMB and the mechanism by which it is able to boost strength and shed fat. Public perception of the supplement was also influenced because of the slew of negative publicity HMB received for a while. There were reports in the past of “fixed” results in studies specifically created by supplement companies to sell more HMB products. HMB subsequently received a bad reputation and fell off the radar of promising performance boosters when the hype around it eventually died down.
HMB on the rise again
Now it seems as if HMB is on the rise again, this time with the backing of empirical evidence. However, you’re now likely to find it on sale in a new form with improved bioavailability. Two forms of HMB are currently available and have been used: Calcium HMB (HMB-Ca) and a new form called HMB-FA, which stands for HMB free acid. The latter is thought to increase plasma absorption and retention of HMB to a greater extent than that of HMB-Ca.
A 12-week randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effects HMB-FA supplementation on skeletal muscle hypertrophy, body composition, strength and power in trained individuals (Wilson, J. M., et al. The effects of 12 weeks of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate free acid supplementation on muscle mass, strength, and power in resistance-trained individuals), published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in 2014, found that HMB-FA resulted in increased strength in exercises such as bench press, squat and deadlift. Strength was assessed via a one-rep maximum test of these compound exercises. The results showed an increase in strength and gains in the subjects who were taking HMB-FA compared to the placebo group.
Researchers also wanted to investigate the effects of HMB-FA supplementation in resistance-trained individuals during a monitored periodised resistance-training programme on skeletal muscle hypertrophy, body composition, strength, and power relative to a placebo-matched control group. The research findings showed that the HMB-FA had a 25 % greater clearance by the body, indicating better utilisation. Subjects in the study had their first serving of 1g of HMB-FA 30 minutes prior to their workout and the remaining two servings were given with their afternoon and evening meals.
Stacking HMB for better results
The results of this study correlated with Kraemer et al. (2009), who also reported strength gains in subjects following a 12-week periodised programmed. This finding was, however, made in a previously untrained population. In the 2014 study it was also found that HMB ingestion combined with a structured exercise routine resulted in greater declines in fat mass in the individuals who were tested. Previous research with HMB in trained individuals has been inconsistent with findings of both no effect (Kreider et al. 1999; Slater et al. 2001) or a positive effect on muscle mass (Nissan et al. 1996; Thomson et al. 2009).
There are indications that creatine, Adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP) and HMB reinforce each other’s effect on muscle mass – good news for athletes who would want to boost their performance further by stacking HMB with creatine and ATP. Researchers concluded that athletes could boost muscle building by also combining Leucine and HMB.
It is clear that research of HMB-FA is still in its infancy. However, everybody in the bodybuilding, fitness and sporting communities are constantly looking for that extra edge – that Holy Grail that will deliver true, tangible benefits. Based on this recent research HMB, in combination with other supplements such as BCAAs, beta-alanine, ATP, Leucine and creatine, seems to be a solution that will likely yield the best results.