HMB – Free Amino, a magic pill or another let down?
You may or may not be aware of a new supplement that has been generating a lot of press recently. To many people it seems like an old supplement rehashed, with HMB (calcium type) being around for quite a long time. It seems HMB is getting the same treatment Creatine has been getting for years, “why take that version when you can take the new improved, methylated, bonded version, and so on. So with that, HMB FA (free amino) was born.
So what is HMB, and why is HMB FA any better?
HMB is a metabolite of Leucine. It was introduced many years ago, and with Leucine being the most influential amino acid for muscle growth, it was only natural that HMB would also elicit some positive effects. After quite a bit of research the results were mixed on HMB, but the consensus seemed to be that while untrained and novice subjects seemed to get clear, measurable gains, the benefits to trained subjects were far less pronounced.
In time it lost favour, and the emphasis has since shifted onto compounds like Beta Alanine, Citrulline Malate and of course staples like Creatine. HMB was theorised to work by its effect on muscle recovery following muscle damage (which occurs in training). Practically, novice trainers whose bodies were not accustomed to this muscle damage would gain greater benefits – as their muscles were damaged to a larger extent after training. Experienced trainers however are conditioned, so less damage occurs (and therefore they gain less from HMB).
Enter HMB FA which is supposed to be better utilised by the body than regular HMB. The real interest in HMB is due to a study which shows some monstrous gains and numbers that are almost hard to believe, however the reality is that looking at the study doesn’t tell the whole story.
What happened with the study?
In this study on HMB (sponsored by a supplement company) all participants were experienced trainers who had a period of no supplementation before the study commenced. During the study the participants used the same dietary and training protocols with one group using HMB 3 times per day (dosed in 3 x 1ml amounts). One dose was taken around training time, with no other supplements used by either group during the study.
The study utilised vastly different training to what most gym rats use. It was based on high frequency use of compound movements with participants squatting many times per week. Most importantly though, the study utilised a periodic timing on “over reaching” which is deliberate over training to elicit gains towards the end of the study.
The problem with this, is that when combined with no supplementation (and inadequate nutrition) over training is likely to cause strength and muscle size losses, and the study really highlights this. The information most people hear is that “participants on HMB FA gained 60 lbs more on their squat, 30 lbs on their deadlift and 15 lbs on their bench “which were the results at the 12 week mark.
Before this however (at the 8 week mark), the participants on HMB had gained 15 lbs more on their squat, which is still of course, significant, however nowhere near as dramatic as the results after the over training period.
In terms of lean body mass gains, the participants on HMB gained an average of 15 lbs of muscle with the placebo group gaining 5 lbs. Interestingly, the placebo group lost 2 lbs of muscle on average during the over training period which means they had gained 7 lbs at the 8 week mark.
In terms of real world carryover the idea of deliberately over training while using absolute no supplementation is absurd, and its situations like this that supplements are going to appear as beneficial as possible. I still believe that the benefits of HMB before the over training commenced are notable enough to give this supplement some promise.
Are there any other studies on HMB FA?
There is another interesting study on HMB FA which many people use to critique the results of the study on strength through over training, however I disagree that it does this. This study was done on participants who used HITT training, and looked at lean muscle gains (or lack thereof) of participants who used this training split. Interestingly enough, while participants in this study didn’t have any measurable changes in body fat, they had clear increases to their athletic performance indicators (Vo2 max) so HMB FA may indeed be useful for endurance athletes too.
So what can we conclude about HMB – FA?
At this stage there simply needs to be more research. If by some chance you decide to jump into a monstrous training protocol where you are doing heavy compound movements every day, ramp up to a period of over training and feel like dropping every other supplement, HMB FA will probably work wonders to ensure you keep your strength and muscle mass!
If you do athletic style training and expect lean mass gains, you will also likely be disappointed. For some of us who train hard and may be on the verge of over training it will be very interesting to see the benefits of HMB FA, particularly when being used in addition to the rest of the supplements one takes. I personally find the results at the 8 week mark of the study (a 15 lb increase in the squat weight and lean muscle gains) to be substantial enough to give it a go.
The positive is that at $29 for 1 months dosing at bulknutrients.com.au, so any trials of HMB are certainly not going to hurt the hip pocket too much.
For further reading Jim Stoppani goes into detail about the HMB FA strength study.
A critique of the study using HIIT Training and HMB FA.
The original HMB FA study using over training protocols
Design your own HMB FA over reaching 12 week training system