Sports Supplement: HMB

Putting on weight is easy – there is plenty of food out there if you can afford it. Building up muscles, whatever your nutritional or economic status is not so straightforward.  In recent years, a popular dietary supplement called HMB or β-Hydroxy- β -Methylbutyric Acid to give it its full title appeared in supplements, which promoted fat-free body mass increase coupled with strength development during resistance or isometric training (Nissen et al., 1996).

How Does HMB Work In Muscle Recovery ? Some Biochemical Pointers

HMB is a degradation product of leucine, an essential branched chain amino acid. HMB is thought to mediate the effects of leucine and a related metabolite, ketoisocaproate (KIC) which are key inhibitors of protein breakdown (Slater and Jenkins, 2000). The mechanisms of mediation are still being worked out but pointers to its actions have included modulation of protein breakdown through the ubiquitin-proteosome system, up regulation of the gene expressing IGF-1, reducing muscle damage by stabilising the muscle’s cell membrane which is currently favoured and also influencing the mTOR signalling pathway which influences protein synthesis.

The current model of recovery using HMB is due to muscle cells damaged in whatever process being unable to produce enough HMG-CoA and thus cholesterol (Zanchi et al., 2011). These muscle cells simply cannot function properly because they cannot produce stable cellular membranes which prevents optimal or maximum cell growth which Nissen and Abumrad (1997) originally suggested.

by pupunkball. Courtesy of
by pupunkkop. Courtesy of

Of the studies worth commenting on, Nissen (1996) demonstrated significant gains using HMB in measures of  fat-free mass and strength in a group of men and women embarking on an 8 week programme of resistance training. A double-blind placebo-controlled study showed that HMB supplementation after 9 weeks with trained men also produced increased muscle strength but with little change in body fat (Thomson et al., 2009). Portal et al. (2011) in Israel, also conducted a prospective randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with a youth volleyball team of both sexes in the first 7 weeks of their training. Likewise, HMB supplementation was associated with increased muscle mass and strength and better anaerobic performance but no effect on aerobic capacity.

A note on anaerobic and aerobic studies:- HMB is believed to benefit endurance training (Vukovich and Dreifort, 2001; Lamboley et al., 2007) but is also contradicted by other studies (Kreider et al., 1999; Hoffman et al., 2004). In this particular area of study, there is still much research to be conducted to conclusively prove a benefit of HMB in prolonged training.

HMB Boosts Whey Powder Supplementation

HMB, when added to a formulation containing whey protein powder and the disaccharide sweetener isomaltulose is claimed to improve general recovery following hard resistance exercising (Kraemer et al., 2015). Its addition is better than using whey protein alone. (See post HMB/Whey Protein/Isomaltulose).

HMB In Product Development: Sensory Issues 

HMB is usually available as the raw product in capsules. When it comes to ready-to-drink and powdered beverages or bars, there is an issue of poor sensory performance in both aroma and taste. Fortification using this supplement requires the use of strong flavours such as chocolate and strawberry, blended with a balanced sweetener


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Updated: 9th August 2017 to include new data on clinical studies and sensory properties. 


Hoffman, J.R., Cooper J., Wendell, M., Im, J., Kang, J. (2004) Effects of beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate on power performance and indices of muscle damage and stress during high-intensity training. J. Strength Cond. Res. 18 pp. 747–752
Kreider R.B., Ferreira M., Wilson M., Almada A.L. (1999) Effects of calcium beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) supplementation during resistance-training on markers of catabolism, body
composition and strength. Int. J. Sports Med. 20 pp. 503–509
Lamboley, C.R., Royer, D., Dionne, I.J. (2007) Effects of beta-hydroxybeta- methylbutyrate on aerobic-performance components and body composition in college students. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc.Metab. 17 pp.56–69

Nissen, S.L., Abumrad, N. (1997) Nutritional role of the leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB). J. Nutr. Biochem. 8 pp. 300311
Nissen, S., Sharp, R., Ray, M., Rathmacher J.A., Rice, D., Fuller J.C. Jr, Connelly A.S., Abumrad N. (1996) Effect of leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate on muscle metabolism during resistance-exercise training. J. Appl. Physiol. 81 pp. 2095–2104
Portal, S., Zadik, Z., Rabinowitz, J., Pilz-Burstein, R., Adler-Portal, D., Meckel, Y., Cooper, D.M., Eliakim, A., Nemet, D. (2011) The effect of HMB supplementation on body composition, fitness, hormonal and inflammatory mediators in elite adolescent volleyball players: a prospective randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
Slater, G.J., Jenkins, D. (2000) Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) supplementation and the promotion of muscle growth and strength. Sports Med30 pp. 105–116
Thomson J.S., Watson P.E., Rowlands, D.S. (2009) Effects of nine weeks of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate supplementation on strength and body composition in resistance trained men.
J. Strength Cond. Res. 23 pp. 827–835
Vukovich, M.D., Dreifort, G.D. (2001) Effect of beta-hydroxy betamethylbutyrate on the onset of blood lactate accumulation and V(O)(2) peak in endurance-trained cyclists. J. Strength Cond. Res. 15 pp. 491–497
Wilson G.J., Wilson J.M., Manninen A.H. (2008) Effects of betahydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) on exercise performance and body composition across varying levels of age, sex, and
training experience: a review. Nutr. Metab. (Lond.) 5 pp. 1
Zanchi, N.E., Gerlinger-Romero, F., Guimaraes-Ferreira, L., de Siqueira  Filho, M.A., Felitti V, Lira F.S., Seelaender M., Lancha A.H., Jr. (2011) HMB supplementation: clinical and athletic performance related effects and mechanisms of action. Amino Acids 40 pp. 1015-1025