Ever noticed how some guys simply need to look in the general direction of a barbell and they’ll pack 10 pounds of lean, solid muscle onto their frame without even breaking a sweat? Then there’s the rest of us.
We work our butts off in the gym, we workout five, six days a week for hours on end, we spend countless hours in the kitchen prepping our meals, and we’re lucky if we can get a decent bicep pump for that all important Instagram gym selfie at the end of the week. When our training is going poorly, we may find ourselves wondering why we’re bothering in the first place. After all, is it really worth sacrificing the nights out and that oh so delicious food in favor of yet another grilled chicken breast when we aren’t even gaining any noticeable muscle at all? The truth is, absolutely.
Bodybuilding isn’t just a fad or a quick fix for being out of shape, it’s an art and is all about a change in lifestyle. If you’re satisfied that your diet and training are both on point, yet you still aren’t making many gains, the next logical step is to look into supplements. We’re confident that you’re already aware about staple bodybuilding supplements like whey protein, and creatine, so we won’t be looking at those today.
Today, we’re going to be looking at something different. Today, we’re looking at HMB supplements for muscle building. Below you’ll find an expert guide covering all aspects of this fantastic, yet misunderstood supplement. Check it out and see what you think.
Table of Contents
What is HMB?
HMB is a supplement that only now is becoming more commonly widespread in the bodybuilding community, so you would be forgiven for assuming that it’s a relatively new supplement. After all, with all of the breakthroughs and advancements in modern technology and science, there are new supplements and supplement companies setting up shop every single day. There are now supplements which are designed to address a plethora of health issues and ailments, with many of said supplements having been developed as a result of the breakthroughs in modern tech and research. HMB however, is not yet another new kid on the block.
HMB is a supplement that has been used in the bodybuilding community since the 1990s. If used correctly, HMB can help to provide very noticeable results, but what the heck is it? Well, HMB stands for Beta-Hydroxy Beta-Methylbuteric acid. HMB is a metabolite of another important amino acid when it comes to bodybuilding, muscle growth, and health in general – leucine. Once leucine is broken down, it becomes HMB in the body. The human body is able to naturally synthesize HMB as a result of protein consumption. When we consume proteins, our bodies use said proteins and amino acids to produce HMB.
What is Leucine and Why is it important?
Leucine is one of three BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids), with the other two being Valine, and Isoleucine. Now, of the three amino acids, even though they are all beneficial in their own rights, you’ll find that it is leucine that’s considered the most beneficial from a bodybuilding perspective. This all comes down to the fact that leucine has been found to stimulate greater rates of protein synthesis in the body.
Leucine is an essential amino acid, which means that the human body cannot synthesize it naturally, but it still needs it. Therefore, it must be consumed in supplement or dietary form in order for you to get the benefits from it. It is beneficial from a bodybuilding perspective because it is able to provide the muscles with the tissues they require to grow, and it also opens up growth pathways which are required for the synthesis of bigger, stronger, denser, muscle protein fibres. Though other amino acids play small roles in protein synthesis, leucine is thought to stimulate protein synthesis more than ten times that of which the other amino acids work. More protein synthesis means more muscle growth.
mTOR Pathways and Muscle Growth
Okay, so, why is it that HMB supplements and leucine in general, are so useful for bodybuilders and people looking to build lean muscle tissue? Well, before we can look at how HMB works, we need to first understand how leucine works. After all, leucine becomes HMB in the body when processed, so the more we understand about this BCAA, the better. Leucine is able to trigger the production of new muscle tissues by activating a pathway in the body responsible for muscle growth, known as mTOR (Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin). Yes, we know it sound complex, but trust us, you really need to hear about mTOR especially if you’re serious about getting jacked!
When you have an increased amount of leucine in the body, this sends a signal to the mTOR pathways that the body has an adequate amount of proteins, amino acids, nutrients, and energy in general, to facilitate muscle growth. Basically, leucine tells the mTOR that the body is okay to start building new muscle because it has enough nutrients to get the job done. When we do not have sufficient levels of leucine in the body, the mTOR pathway is shut down, and consequently, the body ceases the synthesis of muscle tissue via protein synthesis, as it worries that it doesn’t have enough nutrients or energy to get the job done.
What exactly is Protein Synthesis?
HMB supplements are incredibly beneficial when it comes to protein synthesis, as we’ve briefly touched upon above. But what the heck is protein synthesis? Well, from a scientific perspective, protein synthesis a natural physiological process in which our cells work hard to use our DNA, RNA, and naturally occurring enzymes to build protein molecules. Now, generally speaking, your body can be in one or two states. You can either be in an anabolic state, or you are in a catabolic state. Trust us, none of you will ever want to be in a catabolic state. Why? Because when you are in a catabolic state, your muscles are literally being broken down and used for energy.
When you are in an anabolic state however, you are building muscle, which is exactly what you want. In order for the body to produce new muscle tissue, it needs proteins in order to perform protein synthesis. This is where bodybuilding supplements such as HMB, protein shakes, and other amino acids prove so useful. By consuming HMB for example, you will have greater levels of amino acids in the body, so protein synthesis rates can be increased. Protein synthesis produces the proteins needed to facilitate new muscle growth, so the greater the rate of protein synthesis, the greater the rate of muscle growth.
What does HMB Do?
In the body, HMB works by helping to prevent the breakdown of protein tissue located within the muscles. As you know, in order to build and maintain a strong and muscular physique, you need to ensure that your muscles have access to the nutrients needed to grow and repair themselves at all times. This is why bodybuilders will very rarely go longer than three hours without having something to eat. HMB works to reduce the rates of a process known as cellular proteolysis. This may sound like a complex physiological process, but it is basically a process whereby the body breaks down muscle tissue after a strenuous workout.
As you probably know, when you have a particularly strenuous and productive workout, or when you simply work yourself harder, or start a new training regime, you’ll find that after training, your muscles are a lot sorer and tender than they were previously. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, for short. Now, DOMS may be a sign of a productive workout, but if your muscles are sore, this means that they have experienced microtrauma and it means that you’ve damaged the fibres. This is perfectly normal, and is a good sign, as long as you can give the body what it needs to repair the muscles, to rebuild them even stronger and larger than they were before, and to basically recover. We build muscle when we rest, as long as we have the tools needed to recover. This is where HMB comes into the mix. HMB basically gives your body the tools needed to prevent muscle wastage and to promote muscle growth and repair.
How does HMB Work?
So, now that we know what HMB is and what it does, we need to know exactly how it works. Those that are not overly familiar with bodybuilding, with often incorrectly assume that lifting weights in the gym, and working out, allows the body to build muscle. They think that endless barbell curls, squats, and bench presses are building the muscles up to be big and strong. They’re wrong. Working out does not build muscle at all. In fact, working out does the exact opposite.
When you work out, every single rep that you perform is placing stress and strain upon your muscle tissues. Each rep you perform is creating microscopic rips and tears in the muscle fibers. You are literally damaging your muscles and breaking them down. This is a necessary process when it comes to bodybuilding, and it’s the reason why your muscles ache and become sore after training. Our bodies synthesize new muscle tissue for us via a process known as protein synthesis, which primarily takes place when we sleep. In order to do so however, it needs access to proteins, amino acids, and other essential nutrients.
The entire muscle building process is basically your body’s way of trying to protect itself. Even though exercise is beneficial, as far as your body is concerned, because you trained so intensely, and because you are literally breaking down your muscle tissues, exercise is a stressor and is negatively impacting you. Your body realizes that your existing muscle tissue has been damaged, and so it decides to step in and produce new muscle tissue to replace the damaged tissues. This time, it creates even more so as to build the muscles up bigger and stronger in a bid to protect them from the stress they faced, which in this case, was that brutal workout you performed the day before.
Think of your muscles like a fence, and bodybuilding as extreme weather. In normal weather, the fence is fine. When extreme weather comes along, it damages the fence and breaks it down. Now, your body knows that the fence is vulnerable and so it repairs the fence, only this time it uses more materials, and stronger materials to reinforce the fence and make it stronger so that it withstands the next spell of extreme weather it faces. Again, the process repeats itself and each time the fence is damaged your body repairs it and builds it up to be even stronger. Of course, your body needs materials to do that, which is where the proteins, amino acids, and supplements such as HMB come into play.
HMB helps you to hold onto the muscle you’ve been working so hard to build in the gym, meaning that muscle catabolism (breakdown) doesn’t take place. The last thing you want is to lose the muscle you’ve built. HMB helps to ensure that more protein is spared, so that it can be used to build and maintain muscle tissue. This means that your muscles are bigger and stronger, you can train harder, you experience less fatigue and post-workout soreness, and you recover quicker and more effectively after half-killing yourself in the gym after a brutal leg workout (remember, real friends don’t let their friends skip leg day).
What Type of Effects Can I Expect with HMB?
Be under no illusions, HMB is not some miracle supplement that will transform you into a shredded musclebound god in a matter of days. It isn’t a legal steroid, and it won’t allow you to build 40 pounds of muscle in a matter of weeks. What it will do however, is help you to build small amounts of lean muscle mass, and to hold onto the existing lean muscle tissue that you’ve built up so far. It’ll also ensure that you recover much quicker after a workout, and that you experience less post-workout soreness and fatigue. We’re going to look at the benefits of HMB supplements a little later on in this guide, but for now, let’s just say that HMB will help to preserve muscle, improve recovery, and offer modest, yet noticeable, improvements.
Who is HMB for?
Although HMB is marketed as a bodybuilding supplement, not everybody that lifts weights and performs resistance-based workouts and exercises is looking to train like a bodybuilder. You’ll be pleased to hear that HMB is therefore not an exclusive bodybuilding supplement. Bodybuilders will of course benefit from using this supplement, but so too will powerlifters, strongmen, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts in general. Any form of physical exertion will result in muscle breakdown, therefore, HMB is a supplement that will benefit virtually everybody that is involved in sport, fitness, or physical activity in general.
Benefits of HMB Supplements
So, now that we know a great deal more about HMB supplements, how they work, and why they work, let us now expand on these and go into the many benefits of HMB supplements in more detail. There are many benefits associated with HMB supplements, so here’s a look at some of the more prominent examples.
– Builds muscle – As we’re taking a bodybuilding approach to today’s guide, you’ll be pleased, but not overly surprised, to learn that HMB supplements can indeed help to promote muscle growth. As we’ve mentioned, the supplement is a metabolite of leucine, which basically means that, once broken down in the body, leucine becomes HMB. Why is this important for muscle growth? Well, because of the fact that leucine plays a vital role in the production of muscle tissue via protein synthesis, you’ll find that HMB supplements help to stimulate protein synthesis and can therefore help to promote increases in muscle growth.
– Maintains muscle – Though bodybuilders are generally striving to build muscle, there gets a point where you need to stop trying to build muscle, and instead focus on maintaining the muscle that you have already built. This is again where HMB supplements can pay dividends. Not only do HMB supplements help to promote muscle growth, they’re also great for people looking to maintain muscle tissue. HMB supplements prevent muscle catabolism and breakdown and subsequently you can focus on maintaining the muscle that you’ve been working so hard to build for so long.
– Increased rates of recovery – After a tough workout, especially after training legs, you’ll know how tired you feel and how sore your muscles will be as a result of the training you performed. Walking up and downstairs will be extremely painful, and as for sitting down on the toilet? The less said about how painful that is the better. This pain is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, for short. Even though it’s a sign of a productive workout, it doesn’t change the fact that it is painful, and it can negatively impact your training for the next day or so. HMB supplements help to increase a person’s rates of recovery, whilst helping to keep DOMS at bay. You’ll still experience DOMS after a tough workout, it’s just that HMB supplements will make the soreness more manageable and they will help your muscles to recover and repair themselves much quicker than before.
– Increased aerobic capacity – It isn’t just your muscles that will benefit from the use of HMB supplements, oh no. It turns out that HMB supplements may also be dark horses in the world of aerobic exercise too. Studies conducted into the effectiveness of HMB supplements on aerobic fitness have found that HMB supplements can increase an individual’s aerobic capacity, making the supplement great for cardiovascular-based aerobic exercise, as well as HIIT workouts too.
– Reduced LDL cholesterol – Finally, this last benefit doesn’t really have anything to do with how great you look in the gym, or when flexing after the gym with an awesome muscle pump, but it could literally save your life. You’ve probably heard people talking about cholesterol and how dangerous it is. In the body however, we have two forms of cholesterol. We have HDL cholesterol, and we have LDL cholesterol. It is LDL cholesterol that’s dangerous. This cholesterol, if it is allowed to accumulate and get too high, can block the arteries, it can slow circulation, it can cause hypertension, and it can cause heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. This means that HMB could not only prove beneficial for building muscle, it could also prove beneficial for promoting cardiovascular health and fitness.
How Much HMB Should I be Taking?
So, we’ve established how awesome HMB is, but now we need to find out how much we should be taking to reap the benefits. Now, most fitness experts recommend consuming a total of 3 grams of HMB per day, split into three individual 1 gram doses. On off days from the gym, take 1 gram with breakfast, 1 gram with lunch, and 1 gram with dinner. On training days, 1 gram should be consumed immediately after training, ideally mixed with a protein shake, and the other 2 grams to be taken with 2 meals as before. For optimal results, you can stack HMB with other bodybuilding supplements such as: creatine, whey protein, ALA, casein protein, fish oil, multivitamins.