Maybe you’ve read all about HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate) and are convinced that it might be able to help you build new muscle and strength, but you need to know just a little more. You have to know what will happen once you’ve been “on” for awhile before you can pull the trigger.
What can you expect after taking HMB for six weeks?
Let’s find out what the evidence says.
What Science Says
HMB is a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine, which was found in the 198os to help make new protein AND slow the rate of protein breakdown in the human body. Several later studies discovered that leucine’s effect on proteolysis — muscle burning — is largely due to the presence of HMB.
One of the first investigations into HMB was a 1996 study from Iowa State University that confirmed HMB could slow down proteolysis when large quantities were used. In that experiment, subjects trained with weights three days a week for three weeks and t00k either 0, 1.5, or 3 grams per day of supplemental HMB.
In a second portion of the same study, subjects received either 0 or 3 grams of HMB per day and trained for 2-3 hours per day, six days per week for seven weeks.
At the end of each trial, ALL of the HMB groups showed significant increases in muscle mass and strength when compared to the placebo groups.
That study set off a small flurry of research into HMB, and a 2008 review from scientists at the University of Illinois summarized many of the findings over more than a decade of investigation. That review found that, while several studies supported the conclusions of the 1996 paper, many others showed no improvements for a wide swath of lifters.
In particular, several studies found that HMB may have limited effects for trainees with a lot of lifting experience, leading to a hypothesis that these advanced men are not causing enough muscle trauma on a continual basis to make the anti-proteolysis effect important.
On the other hand, the Illinois group concluded that HMB is effective for many groups undergoing significant physical stress, including the elderly, cancer patients, new trainees, and experienced lifters who change routines or lift with great intensity. They site a range of experiments lasting 3-9 weeks and involving experienced lifters that showed HMB to provide roughly 50% better results in terms of lean mass and strength gains than a placebo.
What the Gym Results Say
It’s great to know that scientists have been able to induce gains in experienced athletes using HMB, but what about in the real world? Does it work for the average guy in the gym?
If you talk to your lifting buddies or other trainers you might run into, you’ll probably find a similar mix of good responders and non-responders. One seasoned lifter who was willing to share his experience with HMB is Derek “Beast” Charlebois, who told his story on a natural bodybuilding forum back in 2006.
Derek had dabbled with HMB under a few different scenarios before his article series hit the web, but he decided to try again while in the final phases of preparing for a physique competition. During the final four weeks of his contest prep, Derek consumed between 3 and 8 grams of HMB per day while maintaining a 2500-calorie diet that was designed to help him lose fat.
In those four weeks, with HMB being the only change to his regimen, Derek lost a little more than two pounds of fat and GAINED more than three-quarters of a pound of muscle. Considering that he was training hard and dieting, Derek was a prime candidate for rampant proteolysis during this period, so adding HMB made sense from a theoretical perspective.
In this case, at least, the theory played out in reality, too.
Will It Work for You?
The most consistent factor involved in cases where guys see gains from HMB use seems to be the introduction of a very stressful muscular environment. If you’re a newbie, or if you are an advanced trainer planning to switch routines or really ramp up your intensity and training loads, then you may be well-primed to benefit from HMB.
Available evidence suggests that you might expect to gain a few pounds of muscle and experience a nice boost in strength if you use HMB supplements in combination with intense weight training over the course of 6-12 weeks.
Of course, you won’t gain any muscle if you’re not healthy, so check with your doctor before making changes to your program, including a new routine and the use of HMB. If you get the all-clear, though, HMB might give you the edge you’ve been looking for.