By: Suzette Pereira, PhD., Senior Associate Research Fellow at Abbott
As new ingredients are added to nutritional products, consumers may marvel at their perceived novelty. However, many have been around for years but have only recently been utilized in specialized nutritional products. HMB, or beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, is one such ingredient now emerging in everyday nutrition. HMB has been well-known in the sports nutrition market for decades and used by professional athletes, but it wasn’t until researchers started studying its effects in older adults that it became more mainstream.
HMB in Sports Nutrition
For many, rigorous exercise can cause significant damage to muscle tissue. But those in the sports industry witness it firsthand — usually daily. Always striving to take care of their bodies, athletes are looking not just at their craft but also at their nutrition to combat the physical effects of rigorous exercise. They see that nutrition plays a key role in not only fueling their body but also in muscle repair, which is a significant part of recovering from intense physical activity.
HMB is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine and has been shown to protect against muscle protein breakdown while also helping build muscle mass with exercise.1 Research in athletes demonstrates that HMB supplementation can help speed up recovery from exercise and lower muscle protein breakdown with resistance training.2 HMB can also enhance muscle strength and power, and aerobic performance.2 Although HMB supplementation has been commonly associated with helping recovery from rigorous exercise, an increasing body of research shows that HMB benefits can extend beyond athletes as well.
HMB and Healthy Ageing
As the use of HMB for muscle health caught on in the sports nutrition world, researchers took notice and were intrigued about how HMB could benefit muscle and other areas of health. Studies have explored the role of HMB in chronic and acute diseases, hospitalizations and age-related muscle loss, finding that it offered improvement by:
Reducing inflammation and improving pulmonary function in COPD patients in the ICU.3 Preserving muscle mass in older adults who are immobilized.4,5
Improving muscle strength with exercise6 and muscle function in older populations.7
A recent analysis looking at 15 studies done in over 2000 patients also shows that HMB, and nutrition supplements containing HMB, have significant benefit on improving muscle strength.8
How to Get HMB
While HMB occurs naturally in trace amounts in foods such as avocados, grapefruit and catfish, it’s hard to get, from food alone, the amount of HMB which has shown effectiveness in many studies.9 That’s why it can be beneficial to look for a nutritional supplement that includes HMB and protein for muscle health.
As adults age, muscle loss and slower recovery times might seem unavoidable, but taking a cue from athletes, adults can incorporate HMB into their diet to help avoid so-called downfalls of ageing.
 Wilson JM, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10:6.
 Wilson JM, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):6.
 Hsieh, et al. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2006;15:544–50
 Deutz NEP et al (2013) Clinical Nutr. 32 (5) 704–712
 Hsieh, et al. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2010;19:200-208
 Vukovich et al J. Nutr. 2001;131:2049-2052
 Stout J et al (2013) Exp. Gerontol. 48; 1303-1310
 Bear DE, et al. Am J Clin Nutr.2019;109:1119-1132.
 Zhang Z, et al. FASEB J. 1994;8:A464.