One of the big questions that comes up whenever you start using a new supplement is whether you should cycle it or just use it indefinitely with no break. That’s especially true for substances that have been found to be effective in building muscle or losing fat, like HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate).
On the one hand, you want to make sure you maintain the supplement’s effects AND your health, which might mean coming “off” for awhile every now and then. On the other hand, it can be really difficult to change your regimen if it’s delivering results.
In the case of HMB, there is no clear-cut research (yet, anyway) which tells us definitively to cycle or not to cycle, but we can get some clues from its nature and available studies.
What Is HMB?
At its core, HMB is just a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine. Both leucine and HMB alone have been found to influence protein synthesis and protein breakdown (proteolysis) in a positive fashion. In-depth research studies like this one from the University of Illinois indicate that HMB leans more heavily toward prevention of proteolysis, while leucine has more influence on protein synthesis.
Since leucine is an essential amino acid, you must take it in from the foods you eat, and good sources include egg whites, poultry, fish, and read meat. HMB is produced when leucine is used for protein synthesis or burned for energy, and an average diet will produce 0.25-0.5 grams per day. Hardcore bodybuilders might edge closer to one gram because of all the animal protein we take in.
Most studies show, however, that a 150-pound man needs about three grams of HMB per day in order to reap its muscle-building benefits, so supplemental forms are a must if you’re trying to max out your muscle mass.
The Argument Against Cycling
Precisely because HMB is produced in your body as part of normal tissue maintenance, there is no way to come “off” of it completely. As long as you eat some protein, you will produce HMB.
From what we know of HMB, it is not stored in your body, either, but is used as needed to help preserve your protein stores, or excreted in waste streams. There should be little chance for toxic build-up.
What’s more, none of the available research shows any negative side effects to taking HMB, and authorities like WebMD have not raised any red flags, either. By all accounts, HMB is safe for use by humans.
The Argument FOR Cycling
So, if HMB provides continual benefits with no side effects, why would you ever want to cycle?
Cost, for one. Even though it’s more reasonable than it was during its hype years of the 1990s, HMB is still not “cheap.” If your budget is limited, you may want to try using HMB during times of increased muscle breakdown, such as extremely intense training cycles AND downtime when you’re away from the gym completely.
Also, just because side effects have not been identified to this point does not mean that some won’t pop up down the line when we understand more about long-term HMB use. Three grams per day is a lot to take of any supplement, and cycling off for awhile might help you avoid issues, though that’s more common sense and speculation than anything until more studies are done on extended usage.
Building a Plan that Suits You
Armed with these scattered pieces, you can build an HMB program tailored to your needs, budget, and comfort level.
Start with a visit to your doctor for a complete physical and blood work. Discuss the results with him and tell him about your plans to use HMB to make sure that it won’t pose any health risk for you. If you get the thumbs-up, then proceed with caution.
You might try using HMB as you dive into an intense mass-gaining program in the fall and winter and see how it affects you. If you notice results, stick with it, and maybe try cycling off during a downshift in intensity to see what happens. Keep HMB in your regimen during one of your breaks from the gym, and drop it during the next to compare the differences.
There is no definitive answer on whether cycling HMB is necessary, but, with a little experimentation, you can find out what’s right for you.
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