Of all the supplements NOT named creatine or protein, HMB (β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate) is one of the most hyped and studied when it comes to benefits for athletes and the general population. If you’re a hardcore lifter, though, what you want to know is, can HMB supplement help you get bigger?
There is anecdotal evidence on both sides of the issue — those who say they gained mass using HMB, and those who claim it did nothing for them.
In order to reach a more definitive conclusion, let’s take a look at what science has to say about HMB supplement and your muscles.
Bodybuilders first began hearing about HMB in the mid 1990s when several companies brought it to market. At about the same time, researchers became interested in the compound , as well, and began to study its effects on the body.
In 2000, a group of Australian scientists reviewed the available related literature at the time and found that HMB did seem correlated to lean mass gains in healthy young athletes. The results were still considered preliminary, but it appeared from the early returns that HMB may have been the metabolite responsible for leucine’s well-known anticatabolic actions.
After a period of more intense research, scientists from the University of Illinois once again reviewed available literature in 2008 and reported that HMB tended to induce a definite and statistically significant reduction in proteolysis, or muscle breakdown, when compared to a placebo.
This observation held across subjects in populations from cancer patients to elderly non-trainers to young athletes.
What’s more, the researchers noted that HMB showed at least some potential for enhanced protein synthesis in a variety of studies.
Muscle Without Training?
Continuing to build on the work of their peers, Israeli scientists conducted yet another review in 2010, with a focus on both reported results and possible mechanisms of HMB action in humans.
While the reviewers noted that hard-training athletes generally benefit from HMB, the most dramatic improvements in nitrogen turnover — a measure of muscle gain or loss — is usually seen among untrained individuals.
Their discussion of possible mechanisms, as gleaned from the HMB literature, point to several other potential benefits of HMB supplementation. Among those are enhanced cell-membrane integrity, decreased toxicity in muscle cells as a byproduct of energy metabolism, and better overall cell health.
Putting It All Together
Finally, the same group of Illinois scientists who conducted the 2008 review undertook a direct study of their own in 2014. In this experiment, subjects received either an HMB supplement or a placebo over the course of a 12-week period.
During the study, subjects trained with weights in a periodized fashion for eight weeks, lifted very intensely and with higher volume for the next two weeks, and then backed off for a “taper” phase over the final two weeks.
At the end of the study, the HMB group had advanced in their strength gains nearly three times as fast as the placebo group, and similar results were observed when it came to lean body mass. In particular, the HMB subjects gained, on average, over 16 pounds of new mass compared to 4.6 for the placebo group.
Those results are obviously very dramatic, and no one should expect to repeat them on their own just by including HMB in an existing regimen. Added to the volumes of data that have been gathered about HMB over the last 20+ years, though, this study provides striking evidence that the compound CAN help at least some lifters boost their muscle mass.
Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before taking any new supplement, HMB supplement included.
But if you’re asking yourself whether HMB can help lifters get bigger, the answer seems to be YES in many cases.