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HMB: A Sleeping Giant

Don’t be intimidated by the technical terminology. HMB (beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate) is a water-soluble metabolite produced in everyone’s body from the essential amino acid leucine. Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid, possessing undeniable value in the context of muscle function and athletic performance. About 3-5% of the leucine we consume in dietary protein is converted to HMB, which equates to about 250-500mg per day. HMB is a natural component of breast milk and is present in small quantities in both plant and animal foods.

Multiple Effects

Based on clinical evidence obtained from American University studies, HMB improves protein metabolism and nitrogen balance in favor of growth. It does this by retarding tissue breakdown and encouraging the build-up of nuclei and proteins in muscle fibers. It also adds strength to our immune function by enhancing leukocyte or white blood cell formation. This in turn helps protect internal organs, endocrine glands and functional tissue from the damaging effects of oxidative stress.


HMB seems to improve the metabolism of fatty acids stored within muscle fibers, a definite asset for both endurance and high-intensity exercise. Triathletes and runners can elevate their lactate threshold through HMB’s desirable effect on maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 peak). While training for the Grouse Grind Mountain Run in September, I doubled my intake of HMB and shaved more than 3 minutes off my best time.

Cory Holly, Kieran Holm, Kevin Jangula, Alex Storie

The Grouse Grind, which is known for its rugged terrain and steep 45-degree climb, is a 2.9 km trail up the face of Grouse Mountain. Sometimes called Mother Nature's stairmaster (from hell), the trail begins at the base of Grouse Mountain in Vancouver and finishes at the Plateau, 1,127 metres (3,700 feet) above sea level. www.grousemountain.com Believe me, this run is a GRIND!

Studies on young men who consume three-grams of HMB daily in conjunction with resistance exercise show it is effective for increasing lean body mass. This is equivalent to about 40mg per kilogram of lean mass or 18mg per pound. But Dr. Matthew Vukovich and colleagues at Wichita State University in Kansas wanted to know if the same effect could be achieved on older men and women.

Age is Not A Barrier

Sixteen women and 15 men (average age 70) took part in this geriatric investigation. Subjects were divided into two groups, with one group taking three grams of HMB daily and the other a placebo. Body composition and strength were measured before and after the study.

For two months, both groups weight-trained twice weekly and walked three days a week. After eight weeks both groups gained muscle, but the subjects taking HMB gained more lean mass and strength and lost significantly more bodyfat than those taking the placebo (Passwater, R. Ph.D., 1997, “Building Muscle Mass, Performance and Health with HMB” pg. 31)

HMB is more effective when used in conjunction with resistance or endurance training, adequate protein ingestion and creatine monohydrate. Dr. Steve Nissen, a recognized expert on HMB biochemistry, recommends spreading out your daily dose as much as possible throughout the day. A double dose consumed two hours before exercise will help maximize muscle and strength gains. HMB can be taken on an empty stomach or with a meal.