There are a ton of supplements on the market, and a lot of them offer false hope in terms of what they promise. Many are over-hyped, most are under-dosed, and the majority are marketed as being the absolute “must-have” supplement with a list of purported benefits that are often either embellishments of one-off scientific studies or company-sponsored research designed to yield the results they’re trying to sell.
However, of the supplements that I have often used in the past, there is one that I have always been a huge advocate of, which is actually not commonly found in a lot of the big names out there. HMB – an abbreviation for beta-Hydroxy beta-Methylbutyrate – is a metabolite of the amino acid: Leucine. Now, the latter is one that you will find aplenty in many different formulas; more often than not, you’ll see it as the “game-changer” in BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids) powders. Or you might find that a supplement brand is “spiking” their protein powder with it (more on that another time, but basically it just means adding in extra amino acids in order to claim greater quantities of overall protein, which is erroneous, misleading, and defrauding to the customer).
HMB, on the other hand, is one of those supplements that flies under a lot of radars, but it could actually be of great help to you if you are looking to drop bodyfat and are concerned about potentially eating away at that hard-earned muscle!
See, what HMB does is it acts almost as a protective layer around the muscle – think of the ozone layer and how it protects the earth; when you’re in the gym and you’re working your a$$ off just pumping away, you cause a lot of oxidative stress to occur, and that’s like the earth taking an asteroid-pummelling! So, what it’s doing is preserving that muscle mass and making sure that our body doesn’t start eating away at it in a bid to use it for energy.
‘… until you consider that the effective dose is 3 grams!’
To this end, HMB is quite synergistic when it comes to its role alongside Leucine. Where HMB is superb at preventing muscle breakdown, Leucine’s main role is to induce protein synthesis (which is required for the maintenance and building of muscle tissue).
So, we know it’s role, but what don’t we know? What is one of the most crucial facts that 90% of supplement companies don’t bother telling us? The DOSE that is scientifically proven to show us results! Of the few brands that do offer HMB in their line-up, most of them sell it in 500mg capsules, which is fine… until you consider that the effective dose is 3 grams! So, you’d need to take SIX of these per day for it to be effective! Needless to say, that bottle isn’t going to last long! Also, if you’re already taking other supplements – say, Omega-3 caps, a multi-vitamin, perhaps some Green Tea tablets, etc – then you might think your daily routine is akin to a pharmaceutical stocktake.
But picture this scenario: you’ve worked super hard to get into shape, you’ve decreased your bodyfat percentage, and significantly increased muscle mass, but now you’re plateauing. Could be that your body is choosing to eat into your muscle instead of burning off more fat. HMB may just be one of the best ways you can keep the trend moving in the right direction; this is even more vital if you have been “bulking” (putting on muscle mass), and have now decided to start “cutting” (dropping bodyfat).
‘… the path to an aesthetically pleasing physique should not be treated as a sprint…’
Thing is, popular “bro science” will tell you that you should “bulk” and “cut”, which – granted – does work (to an extent), and is quick(er), but only because it takes each to the extreme. I’ve seen guys in the gym do this – some with decent results, others… more questionable – and what usually happens is that they’re stuffing their faces with thousands of calories, guzzling protein shakes, wolfing down creatine, and over the space of a few months they get pretty big. There is a lot of water retention occurring (creatine will draw extra water into the muscles on a cellular level), and horrific fat gain (from excessive calorie consumption), but ultimately, they succeed in putting on SOME muscle underneath it all. Tell-tale sign of someone who’s doing this: when they get huge (seemingly out of the blue), but look stupidly round, soft and somewhat puffy… embarrassingly enough, way too many *Personal Trainers* out there look like this! But anyhow, then they’ll go and start cutting calories severely and ramping up the cardio… Now, in some cases, these guys strike the right balance with everything, are super strict with their diet (when cutting), and end up looking fairly good; what I worry about is the long-term effects they’ll have by abusing their bodies in such extreme ways.
Now, I’m not going to go into “cu-lking” today, but the fact is that the path to an aesthetically pleasing physique should not be treated as a sprint, but endured as a marathon! HMB is an extra measure that you can take to make sure you’re going about “dieting” in a way that isn’t detrimental to your physical health. After all, what is the point in attaining the aesthetics purely for the sake of vanity? You will ALWAYS hear me champion *performance* as a goal that we should all strive for; looking good ought to be the cherry on top!
But like with anything supplement-based, there is a word of caution to be heeded with all of this…
In all the time I’ve used HMB, and all the research I did before taking it, there was only one reason that I stopped taking it for a while, and it has to do with insulin. Back in 2009 I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, and at that time, I ceased supplementation because I remember having read a study, which suggested that HMB caused an acute increase in insulin release from the pancreas (clearly, this is not something you want happening if you’re diabetic, as you have enough trouble dealing with insulin production/regulation [depending on which Type you have] in the first place); I would later discover that another study noted serum levels of insulin were higher almost exclusively in the liver, and that – regarding muscle mass – it is actually perfectly safe with no adverse effects on the rest of the body. However, if you are diabetic, I would still caution taking HMB, and consult with your doctor first! (A few years later – and being rid of diabetes – I myself incorporated it back into my supplement regime, and have had no problems whatsoever).
So, there you have it – HMB is one of those supplements that can be awesomely effective at helping you keep muscle while dropping bodyfat, it’s best taken in three 1g doses throughout the day, and will work wonders when taken along with other supplements like Leucine, but also Glutamine and Arginine too! You can take it in the form of a capsule, as a standalone powder (which you can mix into other sports drinkables like a BCAA drink or a protein shake), or you can even find some whey formulas that have it included in their blends.
I hope that this slightly shorter-than-normal CXP Edge post has been enlightening. Remember to train hard, and train smart!
Yours in Training
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO