If you’ve ever looked for supplements to boost your performance and hopefully build more muscle over time, you’ve undoubtedly come across two prominent examples:
HMB and creatine.
And, if you’re like most people, you probably wonder what these supplements are and how they work.After all, so much hype surrounds both of them that we can’t help but wonder:
Are these compounds legit, or is this yet another supplement scam?
Below, we’ll go over both compounds, how each works, and what makes them different from the rest. Let’s dive in.
What is HMB And How Does it Work?
HMB, also known as beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine. As such, it occurs naturally in the body and plays an essential role in different processes.
Leucine itself is one of the most important amino acids in the body, and research shows that it alone can kickstart muscle protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown (1, 2). For something as simple as an amino acid, these effects are enormous.
When the body breaks down leucine, we get HMB that has similar actions to leucine. Most notably, it prevents muscle protein breakdown and boosts protein synthesis rates.
Several prominent studies from the past have looked at HMB’s impact on the body, and the results are incredible. For instance, in one study from 2009, researchers gave two groups of novice trainees HMB or a placebo (3).
All of the subjects followed a training program for twelve weeks. In the end, what researchers found was incredible:
Subjects who took HMB throughout the course of the study gained as much as twice the strength and muscle mass while losing nearly two times more fat. With everything else being the same, this single difference accounted for significantly different results.
Other studies have had similar findings. Study after study reliably shows that folks taking HMB (instead of placebo) gain much more muscle and strength while also losing more fat in the process (4, 5).
What is Creatine And How Does It Benefit Us?
Creatine is a naturally-occurring substance with many vital roles in the body. More specifically, creatine is an organic acid comprised of three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. The body naturally produces some amount of creatine, and we store up to 95 percent of it in our muscles. The remaining five percent are split between the brain, liver, and kidneys (6).
Creatine is a substance we can also find in certain foods, including meat and fish. The issue is, we can only gain trace amounts of creatine from foods, and the dose becomes even smaller after cooking, so we would have to eat absurd amounts of these foods to get optimal amounts of creatine. Therefore, supplementation is the next obvious choice.
On that note, researchers recommend carnitine supplementation for vegans and vegetarians because they tend to have lower levels of it in their system (7).
Okay, but what does creatine do in the body?
Typically, we store creatine in two forms: basic creatine and phosphocreatine (this is where a phosphate group attaches to creatine). The primary job of creatine is to help with energy production, especially during training.
You see, the cells in your body require a constant supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules to function, and creatine plays a significant role in their production. In the case of training, ATP demand can increase as much as 1000 times, depending on the intensity (8).
To gain energy from ATP, the body breaks these molecules, which releases the phosphate group and keeps the wheel of life turning (9). ATP molecules then convert to adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Before the body can use the same molecule for energy again, it first must convert it back into ATP, which is where the most significant bottleneck occurs.
Fatigue and performance decline set in once the body’s need for ATP outgrow its capacity to generate it. As a result, we can’t keep up the intensity. Once we give the body some time to recover, we get a new ATP supply we can use to keep working. This is particularly noticeable during weight training. As you do a set, your muscles and aerobic system get fatigued, and you reach a point where you can’t do any more work. Then, once you give your body a minute or two of rest, you can go back and do another set.
This is where creatine comes into the picture. As we mentioned above, most of the creatine in the body is stored as phosphocreatine, which is tied to its effect on our performance. While training and burning through ATP, creatine lends its phosphate group to ADP molecules, which allows the body to more quickly generate new ATP. The direct result is that we can do a bit more work and get fatigued more slowly. Countless papers have shown this effect to be true and reliable (10, 11).
Creatine also appears to increase lean tissue in the body (12). One apparent reason for this effect could simply be creatine’s ergogenic effect. Since it allows us to do slightly more work, that can compound over time and lead to superior results. After all, training volume is tightly correlated with muscle gain, so it would make sense that doing more leads to better progress (13, 14).
Related: If you are interested in HMB, Check out “When To Take HMB: The Science of HMB Supplementation” – Another article on PumpSomeIron.com
Is There Value In Taking HMB and Creatine Together?
So far, we’ve established that HMB and creatine are the two greatest discoveries since sliced bread. It’s evident that both compounds deliver value to us. HMB shows a lot of promise in early studies, and creatine is an old dog with an extensive history. Both improve our performance, ability to build muscle, and energy production.
The question is, should we time the two supplements together? In other words, would it matter if we took them at once, or should we simply make sure to get our daily dose, regardless of timing?
The first paper to look at is a study from 2001 (15). Forty subjects were split into one of three groups:
- Group one (ten subjects) were given a placebo
- Group two (eleven subjects) were given creatine (20 grams/day for seven days and then 10 grams/day for another two weeks)
- Group three (nine subjects) were given HMB daily (three grams)
- Group four (ten subjects) were given HMB and creatine
Subjects also followed a progressive resistance training program for three weeks. At the end of the study, all of the subjects had gained lean tissue. Subjects who took creatine or HMB gained 0.9 and 0.4 kilos of lean mass, respectively. In contrast, those who took creatine and HMB gained over 1.5 kilos. Subjects in the combined group also saw significantly higher strength gains. The authors concluded:
“In summary, CR and HMB can increase LBM and strength, and the effects are additive. Although not definitive, these results suggest that CR and HMB act by different mechanisms.”
From that study, we can conclude that creatine and HMB work well together, but their effects don’t seem synergistic. In other words, both compounds do their thing in the body, but their mechanisms don’t seem to intertwine.
The second paper worth looking at today is a systematic review from 2019 (16). In it, researchers set out to examine the combined effects of creatine and HMB supplementation on performance, markers of muscle damage, body composition, hormonal changes, and more. Researchers found six unique studies that met their inclusion criteria.
Specifically, the studies were as follows:
- Two on strength performance, with one of them showing improvement
- Three on anaerobic performance, with two showing improvement
- One on aerobic performance, not showing improvement
- Three on body mass, with one showing improvement
- Two on fat-free mass, with one showing improvement
- Two on fat mass, with one showing improvement
Four of the studies also examined hormonal balance and markers of muscle damage, with none showing improvements.
Here is a summary:
“In summary, the combination of 3–10 g/day of CrM plus 3 g/day of HMB for 1–6 weeks could produce potential positive effects on sport performance (strength and anaerobic performance) and for 4 weeks on body composition (increasing fat free mass and decreasing fat mass). However, this combination seems to not show positive effects relating to markers of exercise-induced muscle damage and anabolic-catabolic hormones.”
So, where do we stand on this?
Well, some research suggests that taking creatine and HMB together might offer benefits to us. The question is, would we get the same benefit from taking the two supplements but spacing out the doses? It would be interesting to see this experiment in trial settings.
So far, I wouldn’t worry much about making sure to take the two supplements together. Of course, if you want to and it’s convenient, do so. But research doesn’t find benefit in timing either supplement or chasing some synergistic effect.
Research shows a lot of promise for both compounds, and we are certainly going to see more research in the future.
If you’re interested in maximizing your training performance and making the best possible progress, supplementing with both is a good idea. But don’t worry about timing them.
If you want to try HMB and Creatine, I suggest nutricost or Bulk Supplements brands. These are the least expensive options, especially if you get powdered form. I’ve used both the HMB and Creatine from both brands and both are good. Bulk Supplements is typically a little less expensive but Nutricost comes in a tub instead of a bag. Both brands are available on amazon.
Nutricost HMB Powder
Bulk Supplements HMB Powder
Nutricost Micronized Creatine
Bulk Supplements Micronized Creatine
Time to go Pump Some Iron!