Building muscle is a slow process, relatively speaking, and with proper nutrition and smart training a natural athlete could put on between 4-6 pounds of muscle within 1 year. That is a pretty realistic goal. Since muscle growth will rarely exceed even 1/3 of a pound in one day and there are only 800 calories in 1 pound of muscle, then why would anyone need to take in several thousand calories per day above their maintenance level on a daily basis gain muscle? The body will simply use what it needs for growth and maintenance purposes and then store the rest as fat.
The process of building muscle definitely takes patience and trusting the process. I know I’ve talked about this 100 times before but sometimes it’s a good reminder to put things into perspective of how long it actually takes to build muscle. Most people failed to realize that the female body can only put on .25 - .50 Pounds of muscle per month… So if we were to do the math if we did everything perfectly and your genetics allowed you the higher end of muscle growth we would have put on 1.5 pounds of muscle over a 12 week period .… Keep in mind it varies from person to person while one person might add more muscle and then I’m on a time and another much less… This is the average.
So when they aren’t building 12 pounds of muscle per week like they thought they would, they blame their diet or their workout and change something that probably didn’t need to be changed
And with women, it’s the opposite. They also greatly overestimate how much muscle they can gain and how fast they can build it, BUT they do everything they can to avoid it because they don’t want to get “too big and bulky” like a guy.
So, be it, a man or woman, your results suffer as a result of not truly knowing how much muscle you can gain or how long it truly takes to build it. This is why we’re going to change that right now.
I’ve heard a lot of very smart people discuss the rate and limits of muscle growth over the years. I’ve also seen a couple of studies that looked at this as well, and of course, I have my own 10+ years of first-hand experience and real-world observation to pull from, too.
Based on all of this, here’s how much muscle you can expect to gain on average over your entire lifespan:
Average Natural MAN: a total of about 40-50 pounds of muscle in their life.
Average Natural WOMAN: a total of about 20-25 pounds of muscle in their life.
Please note that we’re talking strictly about MUSCLE here, not WEIGHT. You could obviously gain a whole lot more weight than muscle in your lifetime.
Also, note that these numbers are averages. There are always rare exceptions that might either exceed or never come close to reaching these amounts, and there’s a handful of factors that influence what these numbers will be for you specifically (all of which I’ll tell you about in a minute).
But for most people, most of the time… this is the total maximum amount of muscle you can expect to gain naturally.
So, that’s how much you can gain in total. The question now is, how long does it take to build it and how fast can it be done?
Well, once again, I’m going by various trainers/coaches I’ve heard discuss the true rate of muscle growth among their clients, the few studies that have looked at this as well, and my own 10+ years of first-hand experience and observation.
Based on all of this, here’s how fast you can expect to build muscle on average:
Average Natural MAN: between 0.25 and 0.5 pounds of muscle per week (or about 1-2 pounds of muscle gained per month).
Average Natural WOMAN: between 0.12 – 0.25 pounds of muscle per week (or about 0.5-1 pound of muscle gained per month).
Once again, we’re strictly talking MUSCLE, not WEIGHT. Besides actual muscle, weight gained throughout the week could be (and often is) fat, water, or glycogen. We’re not talking about any of those here.
And really, this is the rate you can expect under the best possible circumstances. Meaning, an ideal muscle-building workout routine and diet, an ideal amount of sleep every night, rest, recovery, consistency, lack of stress, and so on. Basically, when everything is done as perfectly as it could be, this is how fast you can expect to build muscle.
And once again… these numbers are averages. Some may exceed them (rare) and some may never reach them (unfortunately true). The exact amount of muscle you can build per week, month, or year is based on a handful of individual factors specific to you. Speaking of those factors, let’s find out what they are.
Everything you’ve read so far, while almost always true and accurate for most people, is based on averages and generalities. Why? Because there are 6 major factors that can change things, and they can vary greatly from person to person. Here are those 6 factors:
In what should come as no surprise to anyone, adding steroids and/or various drugs into the equation completely changes how much muscle a person can gain and how fast they can gain it. So, when you see crazy claims of muscle growth (like every product/supplement claims) or see people who have clearly exceeded the rates and limits mentioned above (like every pro bodybuilder on the planet does), there’s a damn good chance it wasn’t done naturally.
One simple fact of training is that everything comes MUCH quicker and MUCH faster when you’re a beginner. That’s why weight training newbies will often consistently build muscle at the high end of the average rate, and possibly even exceed it at certain points. However, the more experienced you get and the more muscle you build, the slower your rate of muscle gain will become.
How big is the difference? Based on what I’ve seen, it looks like the amount of muscle you can build in your first year is TWICE as much as it will be in your second year. And from there, it will drop off by about 50% each year after that.
Did you know muscle can be regained after you lose it at a much faster rate than it can be gained in the first place? It’s true. Muscle memory is real and it makes a significant difference.
Unfortunately, just like steroids, it’s one of the many methods used to trick people into thinking amazing muscle-building results have occurred when in reality it’s just that the person lost a bunch of muscle at some point and was now RE-gaining it.
The first 2 examples that come to mind were a total bunch of crap known as “The Colorado Experiment” back in the 1970s, and a much more recent transformation by best selling author Tim Ferriss, whose best selling book (The 4 Hour Body) initially garnered a ton of hype and attention as a result of him posting about how he gained “34lbs of muscle in 4 weeks.” HA!
I’d link to it so you can see it for yourself, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Search around and you’ll find it in a second. And if you do, I beg of you NOT to become one of the countless people who read it and now think they can easily gain over 8lbs of muscle per week for 4 straight weeks.
It’s hard to come up with a factor that influences how much muscle you can gain and how fast you can gain it more than genetics. Hormone levels, muscle length, bone structure, and more all play a huge role in your muscle-building potential.
Unfortunately, we can’t change our genetics (although drugs can be used to improve hormone levels), so if you ended up with less-than-stellar genetics (thanks mom and dad!), you’re kinda screwed to some extent. You can certainly still build muscle… it’s just going to be a bit harder and slower, and your overall potential is going to be lower than someone with average or better genetics.
And if you are one of those rare people who did hit the genetic lottery, congrats. Enjoy all of the awesome results that come with being a genetic freak, and always know that I hate your guts. 😉
Here’s another one that shouldn’t really shock you. A 16-year-old with raging hormones will be able to gain a lot more muscle a lot faster than say a 50-year-old whose testosterone levels are hitting record lows by the second. It’s another unfortunate fact of life (unless of course, you’re the 16-year-old).
In terms of the rate of muscle growth (and probably everything else physiological), the younger you are, the better you are. The older you get, the more you can expect things to get slower and worse and generally suckier overall.
And finally, if your workout and diet are set up as optimally as possible, you should see results.
We've all seen it. The girl who suddenly gains 15 lbs of muscle in 12 weeks and wants you to buy her muscle-building workout program to get results like her.
There is a chance she took advantage of her muscle memory to rebuild the muscle she had lost. In that case, it is possible that she build a good amount of muscle back up over 12 weeks... but even then, she did not originally build that 15 lbs of muscle in 12 weeks. It likely took her years.
The more likely situation is that she is sharing a transformation that actually took her years of hard work to achieve and is giving all of the credit to her 12-week income-generating program. She is relying on the general lack of knowledge around muscle-building science and realistic timelines to exploit those who will do anything to get a body like hers.
Other possible reasons: steroids, photoshop, plastic surgery, good lighting/angles, etc.
Basically, don't let social media fool you.
Hopefully, after reading this section, you know exactly why this is a silly statement... but I have heard this fear time and time again with clients so I want to make it very clear that this is a MYTH.
Even in the absolute best circumstances, the average female will only be able to build 0.5-1 lb PER MONTH. For those who are brand new to lifting, it may be closer to 1-2 lbs per month, but even that will not give a bulky appearance as muscle is much denser than fat.
You will not suddenly wake up one day with 30 lbs of muscle and regret every lift you've done to this point. Building muscle takes time.
I worked with my team to put together a quick list of some of the most common foods so you are able to reference this as you are focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Simple. Easy. Effective.
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