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Muscle Professor Academy Q&A | Are HMB Supplements The Secret To Muscle Growth?

Muscle Professor Academy Q&A | Are HMB Supplements The Secret To Muscle Growth?


Jacob M. Wilson, Ph.D., CSCS*D

You Asked Dr. Wilson: “Do you think HMB is worth taking or not?”

Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate or HMB has become one of he most misunderstood supplements on the market.  I have spent literally over a decade studying this supplement in and out of the laboratory.

Quite simply put, it can be one of the best tools for those who train extremely hard, and less effective for those who do not.

So why is HMB so misunderstood and controversial?

HMB Supplements | The Studies

A great deal of the misunderstanding lies in how the supplement was marketed back in the 90’s. To further confound the topic, some studies find that HMB is beneficial while others do not (Wilson et al. 2014).

This subject is of great interest my lab, which is why I have spent literally the last decade studying this topic.  In fact, I have studied HMB in trained (Lowery et al. 2014 ; Wilson et al. 2014; Wilson, 2013) and untrained humans (Wilson et al. 2009); in older folks (Stout et al. 2013); rats and mice (Wilson et al. 2012; Henning et al. 2011.) There is certainly a complicated history to this supplement…so sit back and get ready to hear the full story.

The rise of HMB supplements

HMB was first introduced to the market in the early 90’s.  Fast forward a few decades later, and the supplement has been studied in virtually every condition possible.

In these studies it has been revealed that HMB works by increasing protein synthesis and simultaneously decreasing protein breakdown.  But its important to realise that a supplement like HMB enhances these processes after hard training.  This means that we believe that if you are taking HMB and do not train hard or push yourself, that it will not be beneficial (Wilson et al 2013).

HMB works ideally under new training conditions

hmb supplements periodisation training

Most people view muscle and strength gains as a linear process over time.  However, when examining long-term training studies, it is clear that people do not make linear gains –  rather, they make large gains in short bursts of time with the remainder of time spent in maintenance(Hakkinen et al. 1988).

What causes these gains in muscle and strong is the introduction of something new and exciting into your training program – for example, utilising Periodisation. This is by definition a process where the athlete plans out their variation ahead of time in order to avoid plateaus.  When you do change it up (e.g. periodize training) then you will always make better gains then by not periodizing.

HMB Supplements with Periodisation Training

HMB has been studied in both untrained and trained populations using periodised and challenging training programs verses none-challenging, non-periodised training programs.

The first study to ever look at HMB was in untrained individuals and found that HMB increased strength and muscle (Nissen, 1996).  This makes sense since everything is new and hard to recover from in untrained individuals.

However, in studies in trained individuals where subjects were asked to not change their training programs, HMB did not work (Kreider, 1999 #10211).  This is due to the fact that:

HMB helps speed recovery from muscle damage by elevating protein synthesis and lowering protein breakdown. Therefore, if there is no damage to recover from then HMB will not be as effective.

This research led me to the belief that HMB likely interacts with the training stimulus itself (Wilson et al. 2013).

HMB Studies

Our hypothesis was supported by William Kraemer’s lab, which showed that HMB given during a 12-week periodised training program resulted in ~ 9 kg gains in lean body mass compared to only ~ 2 kg in the placebo group (Kraemer, 2009). In this scenario where the training stimulus is altered continually, HMB’s regenerative and anti-catabolic properties are able to improve neuromuscular adaptations.

To follow up on these findings, our lab published work in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, using a long-term periodisation program (Wilson, 2014). In this experiment, we sought to use advanced athletes, as this is one of the most controversial populations in terms of HMB’s effectiveness.  Indeed, our criteria were quite stringent, and in fact took a full school semester to recruit the desired population.

In the end, elite athletes – many of which were able to squat over 500 lbs, and deadlift over 600 lbs – were identified, and put through a rigorous 12-week training program, while taking 3 grams daily of HMB or a placebo.

✓ We used a BRUTAL training protocol in which we changed the workout up every day and every week for 8 weeks.

✓ On weeks 9-10 we doubled their training volume, and then allowed the athletes to recover.


hmb supplements training

We found that the HMB supplementation:

Drastically improved recovery;

Lowered muscle damage;

Increased lean muscle mass;

Decreased fat mass… more than the placebo.

The bottom line to this study is that HMB proved to work by speeding recovery and allowing you to have the ability to train more, and recover faster – and this is what allows you to make greater gains!

HMB Supplement Dosage?

As far as dosage of HMB, we recommend 3-6 grams daily, with half the dose consumed 30-60 minutes before exercise with the remember coming with other meals

Take Home Message

In conclusion, we hope to educate the consumer of what it truly takes in order to optimise HMB’s effects.  Our lab and others have shown that HMB has little benefit for the none-training individual, bur rather, HMB is most effective for athletes undergoing difficult and new training demands.

People who constantly push themselves and don’t mind switching it up may reap great benefits!


Get the best results with these Essentials:

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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Dawid Lyszczek

Dawid Lyszczek

New Product Developer & Food Technologist

Dawid Lyszczek is an expert new product developer, food technologist, nutritionist and personal trainer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition, master’s degree in Food Innovation and Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training. Dawid specialises in evidence-based body-composition nutrition and training for both amateurs and physique athletes, and has been involved in sports nutrition and weight training for over 15 years. Dawid is also a former competitive bodybuilder, UKBFF British finalist in “Intermediates Over 90kgs” Class of 2013, as featured in Flex magazine.

Dawid’s academic area of interest has involved both the role of meal frequency on body composition, and also functional food development, which you can find out more about here.

In his current role, Dawid bridges the gap between sports nutrition and food technology, bringing in academic experience backed by real life practice that produces results.

You can find out more about Dawid’s experience here.

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