Relevant Research

in the Field of Strength Training and Sports - Special Edition

HMB and ATP for extreme muscle gains?

Written by: Joachim Bartoll, September/October 2016
Classic Muscle Newsletter, November 2016 (issue #26)


In this ongoing series, I will summarize recent and relevant studies within our field of Strength and Performance Sports – including topics such as Strength Training, Hypertrophy, Nutrition, Weight Loss and more. I will wade through all the new published research and pick out the gems – so you don’t have to. If warranted, I will also add my opinion on the findings and/or the methodology of the study. No matter if you’re an Athlete, a Coach or a Personal Trainer, this series will keep you up to date with the latest research in a manageable and easily accessible way.

After receiving several messages and e-mails about this study, I decided to publish my review before finishing up the rest of the relevant research from the last couple of months. Enjoy!

HMB and ATP for better gains in muscle, strength and power?

β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (HMB) is a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine, and according to previous research may help with reducing muscle protein breakdown. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the main energy currency of the body. This molecule stores and releases chemical energy to fuel metabolic processes that keep you alive. Most cellular functions need energy, for example, synthesis of proteins, synthesis of membranes, cellular division, movement of the cell and muscular contractions, and so on. The ATP is the molecule that carries energy to the place where the energy is needed.
Availability of ATP to the muscle is a primary dictator of how much work or exercise you can perform. Because the body cannot easily store ATP (and what is stored gets used up within a few seconds), it is necessary to continually create ATP as quickly as possible during exercise. Supplementing with creatine is effective because it can be used to quickly replenish ATP in hard-working muscles, so that they can continue contracting.
A preliminary study looking at oral supplementation with ATP on exercise performance has shown promise, but getting optimal amounts of energy to the muscle is only part of the equation.

In this study, the researchers wanted to explore possible benefits of combining Free Acid HMB (HMB-FA) and an ATP supplement on measures of muscle mass, strength, or power over a 12-week period of resistance training.

The design

Seventeen resistance-trained men (average age of approximately 21) were recruited into this randomized, double-blind, placebo, and diet-controlled study. They had an average squat, bench press, and deadlift of 1.7 times, 1.3 times, and 2.0 times their body weight. Anyone taking any anti-inflammatory- or performance enhancing supplement was excluded from the study.
Age, height, body mass, and body mass index showed no significant differences between placebo (n=9) and the intervention group (n=8) at the beginning of the trial. Participants were instructed and coached by a hired dietitian on how to keep their diets at 25% protein, 50% carbohydrates, and 25% fat throughout the trial.
Participants supplementing with HMB-FA/ATP were taking three grams of HMB-FA and 400 milligrams of ATP per day. Of this dose, one gram of HMB-FA and all 400 milligrams of ATP were consumed 30 minutes prior to a workout session. The ATP and HMB-FA were provided by TSI, Inc. and Metabolic Technologies, Inc, respectively. Both products were tested for purity and for the steroid hormone DHEA by Metabolic Technologies, Inc.

The 12-week resistance training protocol was made up of three phases. Phase one was an eight-week nonlinear periodized resistance training program (daily undulating periodization). In this phase, sets and reps for exercises are modified from workout to workout. Participants exercised three times a week during this phase. Phase two was a two-week overreaching cycle, where participants exercised at very high volumes, six days a week. The purpose of this overreaching phase was to determine if the HMB-FA/ATP combo could help inhibit any performance decreases. Phase three was a two-week deload, in which volume of work was cut back drastically in order to allow the participants to recover.

The findings

The HMB-FA/ATP group saw significant increases in all measures of muscle strength (measured as one rep max for bench press, squat, deadlift), power (vertical jump, Wingate), lean body mass (DXA scan) and muscle hypertrophy (ultrasonography).
At the end of the trial, lean body mass had increased by 4.6 pounds (2.1 kilograms) in the placebo group and the HMB-FA/ATP group gained 18.7 pounds (8.5 kilograms).
Percentage of fat mass dropped 2.4% in placebo and 8.5% in HMBFA/ATP. Hypertrophy was gauged by measuring the increase in quadriceps thickness, showing a significant treatment effect of HMB-FA/ATP-treated participants (7.8 millimeters) when compared to placebo-treated participants (2.4 millimeters) over the 12-week period.
Blood levels of creatine kinase, an indicator of levels of muscle damage, remained significantly lower in the HMB-FA/ATP group throughout phase one and two. Once the phase two overreaching training began, the placebo group experienced a 153% increase while the HMB-FA/ATP condition only went up by 35%. Cortisol levels were significantly lower with HMB-FA/ATP throughout the entire trial. Inflammation measured via C-reactive protein and free and total testosterone levels did not differ between groups.

The conclusion

The researchers concluded that the combination of HMB-FA and ATP could benefit those who continuously train at high levels such as elite athletes or military personnel.

My thoughts

A free from acid HMB supplement combined with an ATP supplement appears to improve muscle recovery time during extreme training. HMB supplementation does appear to aid muscle recovery in both well-trained and untrained individuals, but only if the training stimulus is high enough. Well-trained individuals would have to train at high intensities and/or volumes to see any benefit of an HMB-FA/ATP supplement. For untrained individuals, simply starting an exercise program would be enough to elicit gains and a HMB-FA/ATP supplement would therefore be a waste.

The benefits of preventing muscle breakdown are illustrated by the placebo group. When looking at the charts provided in the full-length study, one can see that the placebo subjects either regressed or flatlined during phase two with overreaching. In contrast, the HMB-FA/ATP group kept progressing. The HMB-FA/ATP supplement combination essentially “protected” the athletes from the excessive damage incurred through the overreaching phase, allowing them to do more total work, thus achieving greater results.

A lot of people in the industry have expressed amazement at how much lean body mass the HMB-FA/ATP group was able to put on in 12 weeks (18.7 pounds/8.5 kilograms) compared to placebo (4.6 pounds/2.1 kilograms). And yes, these kinds of gains are usually reserved for those on anabolic steroids, and thus caution is warranted when translating these trial results to individuals.

Also, there were many notable limitations of the study. For starters, the number of calories being consumed by the participants and the ratio of carb, fat, and protein. While counseled weekly by a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition, it is unknown if total calories or macronutrient ratios remained constant throughout the duration of the study. This too could have contributed to the spectacular results seen in the HMB-FA/ATP group. Additionally, while all participants completed the trial, the sample size of 17 is relatively small and limits the generalizability of the results. It is also unknown how well the effects seen in this study would translate to older males or to a female population.

In conclusion, I would like to see more studies on this combination. I also predict a lot of new ATP-supplements to hit the market. If you’d like to try this stack, make sure to increase your training volume for 3 to 4 weeks while taking the supplements and then back off to recover.

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Interaction of Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate Free Acid and Adenosine Triphosphate on Muscle Mass, Strength, and Power in Resistance Trained Individuals.
Lowery RP, Joy JM, Rathmacher JA, Baier SM, Fuller JC Jr, Shelley MC 2nd, Jäger R, Purpura M, Wilson SM, Wilson JM.
J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1843-54. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000482.