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Supplements Descriptions

By Gary F. Zeolla

HMB stands for beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate. It is a popular weightlifting supplement. The body can make HMB from the essential amino acid leucine (one of the branched chain amino acids). But many have found that supplementing with it is beneficial.

It's main purported benefit is to reduce the amount of muscle damage incurred during and after a weightlifting workout. As a result, post-workout soreness is reduced, recovery times are shortened, and strength and muscular gains are improved. The generally recommended dose is three grams a day. However, some authorities believe the dosage should be bodyweight dependent, namely 38 mg per kilogram of bodyweight (or about 17 mg/ pound).

I first became interested in HMB in the fall of 2003. What interested me most was the claim that it reduced post-workout soreness. For quite some time after I started lifting weights again in the summer of 2002, post-workout soreness was a significant problem for me. Due to my fibromyalgia, the post-workout soreness could be rather extreme, feeling more like flu-like achiness than normal soreness. I especially would feel achy the morning after a heavy workout.

As such, HMB sounded like just the supplement for me. The problem was, it is very expensive, so I held off trying it and looked into other alternatives. But by the beginning of 2004, my achiness the day after a workout was getting so bad I was thinking about giving up on powerlifting. In particular, the day after deadlifting I would often feel downright awful and began thinking it just wasn't worth it.

It was at that time that I saw reports in a couple of different magazines about a study done at Iowa State University. It investigated over 250 supplements purported to be beneficial to weightlifters, looking to see which ones had sound scientific evidence that they in fact worked. I found the actual study on the Internet. It  concludes, "In summary, of the >250 dietary products available, only HMB and creatine supplements have sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that lean body mass and strength gains accompanying resistance training are augmented."

The study also reported, "HMB supplementation during resistance training (study length ranged from 3 to 8 wk) had no adverse affects on hematology, or hepatic or renal function. However, HMB supplementation did result in a net decrease in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure" (Nissan and Sharp). Therefore, it sounded like HMB was a safe supplement that might even have some "side benefits" to it.

I did some additional research on the 'Net and found several studies on HMB. Of the 11 studies I found, 8 reported that HMB was beneficial while only 3 said it was not. I then searched back posts in weightlifting discussion boards and newsgroups. Of those who had used HMB, about half said they found HMB to not be beneficial, but about half said it was beneficial. However, many of the latter felt the effect was only minor and thus the HMB was not worth the cost.

However, it was noted in some of the studies that HMB is not well absorbed. One study found that about half of the supplemented HMB was found in the urine of test subjects. But that study gave the HMB in two doses, morning and evening, with orange juice, and the researches noted that this probably was not the best way to supplement with it (Nissen, Sharp, Ray).

Some of the lifters in the newsgroup posts who reported significant benefit from HMB said they found it worked best if taken with protein and in several, small divided doses throughout the day. They also felt it had greatest absorption during and post-workout. Given this, it's possible that those who reported little or no benefit from HMB were not taking it in the best manner. And given my problem with post-workout soreness, I decided it was worth a try.

I did a lot of research on the 'Net trying to find the cheapest version of HMB possible to keep the costs reasonable. The product I ended up purchasing was Sci-Fit's "Extra Strength HMB."  Each capsule contains 750 mg capsules.

Given my research, I felt it best to split up the capsules between as many meals as possible. Therefore, on my non-lifting days I took one capsule with four different meals each day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime snack). That means, I used 3.0 grams on non-lifting days. But on my lifting days, instead of the afternoon snack, I would consume a post-workout drink consisting of maltodextrin, whey protein, and a few other ingredients. And with the possibility of increased absorption post-workout, I took an extra capsule of the HMB giving me 3.75 grams total on workout days.

Within two weeks, I noticed a significant reduction in my post-workout soreness. But given that I had made a couple of other changes to my supplements at the time, I wasn't sure if it was the HMB or something else, so I tried stopping the HMB. Within a week, the severe post-workout soreness came back, so I went back on the HMB. Within a week, the soreness was once again significantly reduced.

But I only purchased enough of the capsules to last one month. And during this time I had come across a powdered form that was considerably cheaper, so I ordered it rather than the capsules. With the powder, I mixed the HMB in with my daily quart of protein drink (which I drank in four servings spaced throughout the day) and in my post-workout drink.

I started out using the same amounts I had used with the capsules, but it wasn't having as great as an effect. The soreness was slowly returning. I thus increased the dosage to 3.5 grams in the protein drink, plus one gram in my post-workout drink (e.g. 3.5 grams on non-workout days, 4.5 grams on workout days). And even with the greater amount, it didn't seem to help as much as the capsules did. As such, I really did not save any money by buying the cheaper version.

As I was using the powdered HMB, I continued to experiment with other supplements. And at one point, "something" was causing me drowsiness, so I stopped all of the supplements I had recently started, including the HMB. But once again, within a week my extreme post-workout soreness returned, so I went back on the HMB without restarting anything else. And again, rather quickly my soreness reduced and my drowsiness did not return.

I should also note that along with reducing post-workout soreness, during the times I was using the HMB, I wouldn't feel as fatigued after working out as I usually do. It also seemed to improve recovery times. As a result, my lifting progress seemed to benefit from using it. I was even able to go through a workout faster while using it, taking less time between sets. But again, during the times when I stopped the HMB, I would lose all of these benefits.

I ordered enough of the powder to last two months. But when it ran out, I held off ordering any more. It was obvious that it was not as of high quality as the capsules I had ordered, so if I were to continue to use the HMB I planned on going back to the capsules. But I wanted to experiment one last time to be sure that the HMB was in fact worth the cost. In my second workout without the HMB, I could tell I had not fully recovered from my previous workout, so I had to cut back on my intensity. And even with doing so, I still felt very sore afterwards.

Consequently, after over three months of experimenting, I was sure that HMB is in fact a very beneficial supplement for me to take. Thus despite the cost, I fully intended on continuing to use. And I went back to the capsules I used in the first place. And after just a few days back on the capsules, my post-workout soreness had already significantly improved.

But after time, the expense was getting to be too much, so I gradually cut back on the HMB to where I was only taking it post-workout, and then I stopped it altogether. And my excessive post-workout soreness did not return.. It's possible that I was somewhat deficient in HMB when If first started taking it, but the several months of use restored these levels, so now it just is not needed. Remember, the body can make its own HMB from leucine.

To conclude, yes, I did get benefit from HMB for an while. As such, it might be worth experimenting with. But given the expense, be sure it really is beneficial before taking it long term. Like me, you might find it only necessary to take it for a short while.

The SciFit HMB is no longer available, but Optimum Nutrition makes a similar product. It is available from iHerb and Amazon. Other brands of HMB are also available from Amazon. For iHerb, use coupon code HOP815 to get $5.00 off your first order.

The following are some of the studies I read in researching HMB. Abstracts for these studies can be found on Entrez PubMed. PMID refers to the PubMed identification number. Do a search on the PMID to find the abstracts for these studies on PubMed. A link to the full text of some of these studies can be found on the PubMed abstract page.

J Appl Physiol. 2003 Feb;94(2):651-9. Epub 2002 Oct 25. Effect of dietary supplements on lean mass and strength gains with resistance exercise: a meta-analysis. Nissen SL, Sharp RL. PMID: 12433852.

J Appl Physiol. 1996 Nov;81(5):2095-104. Effect of leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate on muscle metabolism during resistance-exercise training. Nissen S, Sharp R, Ray M, Rathmacher JA, Rice D, Fuller JC Jr, Connelly AS, Abumrad N. PMID: 8941534.

Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Jun;13(2):184-97. The effects of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) and HMB/creatine supplementation on indices of health in highly trained athletes. Crowe MJ, O'Connor DM, Lukins JE. PMID: 12945829.

Nutrition. 2001 Jul-Aug;17(7-8):558-66. Creatine and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) additively increase lean body mass and muscle strength during a weight-training program. Jowko E, Ostaszewski P, Jank M, Sacharuk J, Zieniewicz A, Wilczak J, Nissen S. PMID: 11448573.

Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001 Sep;11(3):384-96. Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) supplementation does not affect changes in strength or body composition during resistance training in trained men. Slater G, Jenkins D, Logan P, Lee H, Vukovich M, Rathmacher JA, Hahn AG. PMID: 11599506

Sports Med. 1999 Feb;27(2):97-110. Dietary supplements and the promotion of muscle growth with resistance exercise. Kreider RB. PMID: 10091274.

HMB - Supplement Descriptions. Copyright 2004, 2008, 2014, 2017 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Optimum Nutrition's HMB is available at Amazon.

The above article was posted on this site May 7, 2004.
It was last updated June 17, 2017.

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