The Ultimate Guide to HMB Supplements

As a conscious gym-goer (regular or not), odds are you know your protein, carbs, and fats. However, sculpting a wow-worthy physique depends on more than just these three macronutrients. In fact, sometimes it’s the overlooked nutrients that make all the difference. Take HMB, for example. Despite being relatively unknown, this nutrient is killing it.

From serving as a potent anti-catabolic agent to speeding post-workout recovery, HMB can take your fitness/bodybuilding goals to a whole new level. But, what exactly are HMB supplements, how do they benefit our body and can they increase testosterone? Get all the answers to your HMB-related questions in this 5-minute read.

What is HMB?

ΗΜΒ, formally known as beta-hydroxy beta-methyl butyrate, is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine. Being the most investigated BCAA these days, leucine contributes to various functions in the male body, some of which include protein metabolism, muscle recovery as well as glucose homeostasis. However, leucine is mostly known for its anti-catabolic properties. But, what does leucine have to do with HMB?

According to research, once ingested, part of leucine converts into a-ketoisocaproate (KIC) which is mainly responsible for decreasing muscle breakdown. In its turn, KIC is metabolized into HMB with a little help from an enzyme.

What’s a bit concerning, though, is that just 5% of total leucine converts into HMB which is a very small percentage. In fact, that means that you need to consume about 60 grams of leucine (FYI, that’s way too much) just to obtain 3 grams of HMB which is the recommended dosage. This is why HMB supplementation is actually a sustainable alternative.

Considering all of the above, it’s obvious that leucine and HMB are not the same thing. With that in mind, HMB seems to be significantly better at preventing muscle breakdown compared to leucine. On the flip side, leucine is way more advanced when it comes to protein synthesis. That’s why HMB is usually marketed as a potent anti-catabolic while its parent amino acid, leucine, is more of an anabolic agent.

HMB Supplements and Exercise: What’s Really Going On?

Even though HMB supplements are not that popular, they have managed to make a name for themselves in the fitness world. In fact, bodybuilders, as well as strength/power athletes, use HMB supplements as an ergogenic aid to enhance their overall performance. However, while some studies support the positive effect of these supplements on athletic performance and muscle development, some others beg to differ. So, what’s really going on with HMB supplements?

  1. The Bright Side of HMB Supplements

For decades now, scientists have been examining the efficacy of HMB supplementation on the human body taking into account multiple variables, from age and fitness level to various (most of the times severe) catabolic states.

  • HMB Supplements For Any Fitness Level

According to one study, individuals who don’t exercise that often can step up their muscle-building game by supplementing on HMB. More specifically, taking either 1.5 or 3 grams of the metabolite daily reduces muscle catabolism and results in larger gains. None of that is possible, of course, is the absence of exercise.

Luckily, HMB delivers the same results for those who exercise regularly. In fact, one study shows that HMB supplementation at 3 grams a day is bound to enhance your lean body mass as well as strength. So, no matter your current fitness level, research proves that HMB can be a sustainable way to increase muscle gains.

  • HMB Supplements and Athletic Performance

Besides supporting greater muscle gains, this leucine metabolite is also known for increasing not just peak oxygen consumption alone (VO2 peak) but also the time at which your body reaches it. That means that you can train for longer without your body giving in.

  • HMB Supplements at the Various Catabolic States

Taking into account their potent anti-catabolic properties, scientists examined the efficacy of HMB supplements at different catabolic states. Such states may occur in cases of immobilization, AIDS-induced muscle loss or during periods when you simply don’t hit the gym.

According to research, HMB supplements reduce the rate at which muscle tissues are being broken down and excreted from the human body. This way more muscle tissue remains intact, helping patients and lazy gym-goers alike preserve their current muscle mass.

  • HMB, Cholesterol and Body Fat

Eating healthy has always been the best way to keep your weight at bay, but recent studies are here to propose some alternatives. More specifically, there’s evidence that HMB supplements increase fat oxidation in muscle cells, a chemical reaction which results in decreased body fat and cholesterol levels.

  1. The Dark Side of HMB Supplements

As much as we’d like to say that HMB supplements have what it takes to become the next big thing, there are several studies which instantly have us thinking about the potential of this metabolite.

  • HMB Supplements and Testosterone

High testosterone levels have always been one of the top goals among bodybuilders and power athletes alike. However, various studies show no correlation between the male hormone and HMB supplements.

In fact, one recent study on six moderately active men proves that consuming 3 grams of HMB daily for two weeks straight doesn’t actually increase testosterone levels at all. In fact, the testosterone to epitestosterone ratio remains the same. At the same time, another study also confirms that HMB supplements have no effect on testosterone given the stagnant tendency in hormone markers.

In 2011, a HMB-centered study also examined the effects of the metabolite on various hormones, including testosterone. The results showed no difference in the male hormone levels, proving once again that HMB supplements and testosterone don’t get along that well. The bottom line? If you want to skyrocket your testosterone levels, HMB is NOT the way to go.

  • HMB Supplements and Performance

This may go against what previous studies have reported so far, but not all of them support the fact that HMB supplements improve athletic performance. In fact, in 2003, the participants of one of those studies, who were elite rugby players at the time, consumed HMB supplements for six weeks. Unlike what we’ve heard so far, researchers conclude that their aerobic and anaerobic abilities didn’t improve at all.

Following in the footsteps of the study above, a panel of scientists conducted similar research in the following year. To everyone’s surprise, they discovered that the leucine metabolite doesn’t provide any ergogenic benefits for athletes, confirming the results of the previous study.

Potential Side Effects of HMB Supplements

Considering HMB is a substance that naturally forms in the human body, chances are you won’t experience any side effects. Even science agrees with that. However, avoid consuming more than 3 grams of the metabolite daily for eight weeks maximum.

The Takeaway

When it comes to HMB supplements, science faces a serious dilemma. While some scientists showcase the muscle-building and ergogenic properties of the metabolite in the male body, some others claim that it’s not worth our attention. In fact, they prove that HMB supplements don’t affect any of the top male hormones such as testosterone.

However, considering the lack of side effects and the plethora of studies talking in favor of the leucine metabolite, it’s worth giving it a try, especially if you want to see those muscles grow. But, remember to stick to the recommended dosage.