What is HMB and can it help me run better?
Surely, running is not all about gear?
Of course not. I have learned how to manage my expectations and raise my game by running faster and extending my distances. For a complete running experience I’ve learned the importance of rest, good sleep and cross training. I have also learned the importance of hydration and a quality diet. I know what to eat and when to eat in relation to any of my runs, from 5K to 50K. Every bite has equal importance. I thought I knew what the best supplements for runners out there were. I also know when to hydrate and what to drink. Nothing is left to chance.
So, I thought I was quite knowledgeable when it came to the subject of running, and getting the best out of my body. And then…. then I heard about HMB.
When hearing ‘HMB’ for the first time, I didn’t know what to make out of it. ‘H?…M?.. what?? My friendly partner simply replied by saying, ‘Oh, HMB? That’s beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid, don’t you know?’
Hang on, what on earth IS beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid?
Discussing chemical formulas, or listening to anyone trying to explain them to me, has never been my forte. But this one felt differently. And it was not that complicated after all.
HMB is a substance that we, the humans, naturally produce when we eat foods rich in protein, especially beef and some types of fish. Proteins are made up of amino acids, smaller molecules that themselves get broken down into even smaller parts, to be used by our bodies for various things.
HMB is made in our body when breaking down the amino acid leucine.
However, since only a small percentage of leucine is converted to HMB, it is not possible to obtain significant amounts of it from diet, or by taking leucine supplements. In addition to that, as we age our body’s ability to produce HMB slows down – the older we get the less HMB there is in our bodies.
As I am not getting any younger, and my muscles will not be what they used to be, I sat down and listened to what my partner had to say.
It turns out that HMB is also used as a dietary supplement to aid body strength when exercising or engaging in various sports – from weightlifting to cycling, from rugby to basketball and football, from tennis and swimming…….to running!
Actually, my partner tells me that, based on the results of sports science studies, HMB was said by some researchers to be one of the best supplements for runners. That’s it, now I am sitting up and taking notes.
But, what exactly does HMB do? And could it really be one of the best supplements for runners? really??
It does quite a few clever things in our bodies. Basically, and most importantly for an ageing yet ambitious runner like myself, it protects our muscles from wear & tear damage, stimulates their growth, their repair and recovery.
When I trained for my first ultra, I pushed myself too hard in training and my body took its energy from my muscles, making me weaker as a result. And this is where HMB can help (I wish I knew then) – it makes sure that the energy is taken from fat stores and not muscles, hence it also provides a perfect addition to any weight loss program by accelerating fat loss when we are at risk of muscle waste.
HMB also improves VO2 max (a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen a body can utilise during exercise), thus increasing aerobic capacity. In plain words, the better your VO2 max, the faster and longer you run, feeling less fatigued. And as any long distance runner can tell, there is nothing less amusing than a crippling fatigue that hits many of us at some distance.
Going further, remember how often you were not able to return to training, or even innocent jogging because your joints were stiff? A bunch of times, I guess. I certainly did. It turns out our new friend HMB improves joint flexibility because it plays an important role in the formation of collagen in the bones and connective tissue.
The inevitable part of life is that we age (we can’t change that, sorry guys) and age related muscle waste is part of that process. Our bones lose density, our muscles lose definition and mass. HMB has been shown to limit this decline and supplementing HMB is recommended as a way to prevent weakness and loss of muscle that naturally occurs when we are inactive for long, often after illness or surgery.
OK, this all sounds really good, but how come I have never heard of it?
As a product, HMB was found to be beneficial in the mid nineties. However, just like any new product HMB was prohibitively expensive for some time, and any new product takes time to travel from its infancy until the exact benefits are known. In 2013 The International Society of Sports Nutrition released its official position and overwhelmingly supported its usage.
Since then its popularity has been growing and its costs have been lowering but it does take time for any product to become a ‘household’ name.
I’m just a recreational park runner, not an Olympic sprinter, is HMB for me?
Every runner, amateur or pro, has their goals. And if some of your goals are protection, repair and growth of lean muscle and increase of your cardiovascular ability, then, yes, HMB is for you. Of course, you can take HMB if you participate in other sports or types of training, not just running.
I’m an older runner, in my late 50’s, is HMB for me?
Absolutely. Our body’s ability to produce our own HMB lowers with age, so the older you are the less HMB you’ll have. Many scientific studies that investigated HMB supplementation in older adults found that it helped reduce the decline of muscle strength, especially when it was taken alongside with resistance exercise.
Read more on HMB and other ways of preserving muscle as we get older.
Anything else I should know, apart from learning how to correctly pronounce beta hydroxy beta methylbutyric acid?
There are many supplements that are good for runners and those who engage in other sports. We all have our reasons and mine are primarily linked with better performance, ability to run more comfortably and prevention of injuries. Protection of my bones and muscles is my top priority but also the increased cardio ability. Both are incredibly important in order for us to run longer, faster – and better.
For any runner, or any sports person (committed amateur or seasoned pro) there are great vitamins and supplements that will help our performance. I prefer mine with no additives, fillers or sweeteners and the key idea is to know what you need based on what you are doing or training for.
Many amateur runners simply assume that supplements are for the professionals, often failing to see the link between fatigue, cramping, muscle ache or muscle waste and overall poor performance when pushed a bit harder. That is where supplements come alive. Whether you need to replenish your electrolytes or depleted glycogen stores during long runs, maintain healthy hydration or look after your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments as well as improving your cardio system, or are looking for best supplements for runners recovery, there are great ones out there that will help you look after yourself in the long run.
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