A double-blind placebo controlled trial into the impacts of HMB supplementation and exercise on free-living muscle protein synthesis, muscle mass and function, in older adults

Clin Nutr. 2019 Oct;38(5):2071-2078. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2018.09.025. Epub 2018 Sep 27.


Age-related sarcopenia and dynapenia are associated with frailty and metabolic diseases. Resistance exercise training (RET) adjuvant to evidence-based nutritional intervention(s) have been shown as mitigating strategies. Given that β-hydroxy-β-methyl-butyrate (HMB) supplementation during RET improves lean body mass in younger humans, and that we have shown that HMB acutely stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and inhibits breakdown; we hypothesized that chronic supplementation of HMB free acid (HMB-FA) would enhance MPS and muscle mass/function in response to RET in older people. We recruited 16 healthy older men (Placebo (PLA): 68.5 ± 1.0 y, HMB-FA: 67.8 ± 1.15 y) for a randomised double-blind-placebo controlled trial (HMB-FA 3 × 1 g/day vs. PLA) involving a 6-week unilateral progressive RET regime (6 × 8 repetitions, 75% 1-RM, 3 · wk-1). Deuterium oxide (D2O) dosing was performed over the first two weeks (0-2 wk) and last two weeks (4-6 wk) with bilateral vastus lateralis (VL) biopsies at 0-2 and 4-6 wk (each time 75 ± 2 min after a single bout of resistance exercise (RE)) for quantification of early and later MPS responses and post-RE myogenic gene expression. Thigh lean mass (TLM) was measured by DXA, VL thickness and architecture (fibre length and pennation angle) by ultrasound at 0/3/6 wk, and strength by knee extensor 1-RM testing and MVC by isokinetic dynamometry (approx. every 10 days). RET induced strength increases (1-RM) in the exercised leg of both groups (398 ± 22N to 499 ± 30N HMB-FA vs. 396 ± 29N to 510 ± 43N PLA (both P < 0.05)). In addition, maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) also increased (179 ± 12 Nm to 203 ± 12 Nm HMB-FA vs. 185 ± 10 Nm to 217 ± 11 Nm PLA (both P < 0.05); with no group differences. VL muscle thickness increased significantly in the exercised leg in both groups, with no group differences. TLM (by DXA) rose to significance only in the HMB-FA group (by 5.8%-5734 ± 245 g p = 0.015 vs. 3.0% to 5644 ± 323 g P = 0.06 in PLA). MPS remained unchanged in the untrained legs (UT) 0-2 weeks being 1.06 ± 0.08%.d-1 (HMB-FA) and 1.14 ± 0.09%.d-1 (PLA), the trained legs (T) exhibited increased MPS in the HMB-FA group only at 0-2-weeks (1.39 ± 0.10%.d-1, P < 0.05) compared with UT: but was not different at 4-6-weeks: 1.26 ± 0.05%.d-1. However, there were no significant differences in MPS between the HMB-FA and PLA groups at any given time point and no significant treatment interaction observed. We also observed significant inductions of c-Myc gene expression following each acute RE bout, with no group differences. Further, there were no changes in any other muscle atrophy/hypertrophy or myogenic transcription factor genes we measured. RET with adjuvant HMB-FA supplements in free-living healthy older men did not enhance muscle strength or mass greater than that of RET alone (PLA). That said, only HMB-FA increased TLM, supported by early increases in chronic MPS. As such, chronic HMB-FA supplementation may result in long term benefits in older males, however longer and larger studies may be needed to fully determine the potential effects of HMB-FA supplementation; translating to any functional benefit.

Keywords: D(2)O; Exercise; HMB; Skeletal muscle; Stable isotopes.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Development / drug effects
  • Muscle Development / genetics
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects
  • Resistance Training*
  • Valerates* / administration & dosage
  • Valerates* / blood
  • Valerates* / pharmacology


  • Valerates
  • beta-hydroxyisovaleric acid