HICA leads to more muscle gains, less soreness in athletes

HICA leads to more muscle gains, less soreness in athletes

Predator Nutrition readers should by now be aware of the importance of the branched chain amino acid, Leucine for athletes and bodybuilders alike. A glut of data has illustrated Leucine’s importance in muscle building and recovery from exercise. Its importance in influencing supplement companies to release BCAA formulas with a higher dose of Leucine is also established.


One of the metabolites of Leucine which you may be familiar with, especially if you have been reading about nutrition and supplementation for a while is HMB. In repeated studies HMB has been demonstrated to improve body composition in subjects, increasing both muscle mass and reducing body fat in those who take it. However, when we look at a review of studies on HMB which are not funded by the manufacturer we see only very minor positive effects.


In light of this, how dos HICA compare?


A recent study on sportsmen funded by the manufacturers of HICA and published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition provides some clues.


Participants used either HICA at 0.5 grams three times a day or else were given a placebo. The study ran for four weeks during which the footballers trained with weights twice a week and played football or undertook cardiovascular training nearly every day. Dietary records were maintained by the subjects four weeks and their nutrient intake was monitored. Average protein intake was around 1.6-1.7g per kg of bodyweight which the authors considered quite high but would be regarded as a little on the low side by many bodybuilders.


After four weeks measurements of body composition and strength were taken.


The researchers found a statistically significant benefit of HICA with the players supplementing with HICA adding 0.4kg of lean mass in the lower body over the four weeks while the players who took the placebo lost 0.15kg of lean body mass in their lower body. Compared to whole body lean body mass gains where there was only a 0.3kg gain in the HICA group, it appears that they gained extra muscle in their legs to compensate for some loss of muscle mass in their upper bodies. Lean body mass in the placebo group was the same at the end as it was the start. Again, this implies that they actually gained 0.15kg of muscle in the upper body to offset the loss of 0.15kg in their legs. Actual bodyweight remained the same in the placebo group and neither group gained any bodyfat so that the net outcome for the HICA supplemented group was a 300g muscle gain and for the placebo group there was no change.


DOMS was lowered by the fourth week of HICA supplementation but not in those given placebo. The effect on strength and performance was negligible.


Review: At first glance the gain in muscle mass of 0.3kg after four weeks is fairly unimpressive compared to placebo, however, when we note that the training being performed would be extremely taxing for the leg muscles, the difference between the two groups with respect to their leg muscle changes is impressively large. To wit, one group gained 0.4kg of lean mass in their legs while the other lost 0.15kg. A difference of over 0.5kg in four weeks in athletes whose training was not geared towards hypertrophy is significant.


Disappointingly there was an absence of significant effect on strength between the two groups even in the lower body tests such as squats where the benefits of gaining extra muscle mass in the HICA group would be expected to raise strength compared to placebo. Speed tests also showed no statistically significant difference between the two groups after four weeks. Possibly, a longer study may have produced a more discernible difference between the two groups.


The reduction in muscle soreness which occurred after the fourth week of training in the HICA supplemented group was attributed by the researchers to an inhibitory effect on metalloproteinase enzymes which are considered partly responsible for causing muscle soreness. In tandem with the reduction in soreness the researchers also noted an increase in training alertness from the second week onwards which they attributed to the possibility of less muscle soreness allowing for increased attention to the training.


Our Take: It would have been interesting to see if the beneficial effects attributed to HICA supplementation in this study could be reproduced by use of either Leucine or Branched Chain Amino Acids. With a higher protein diet leading to a higher level of Leucine and BCAA’s in the diet it would make sense that the beneficial properties of providing a metabolite of Leucine (HICA) would be reduced. Until further studies are conducted with a more dedicated weight training population the jury is still out on how significant HICA is for athletes versus the merits of simply increasing intake of BCAA’s or Leucine which both have a larger body is research supporting their benefits.


© 2012, Reggie Johal. All rights reserved.