How Much Lean Muscle Should You Expect to Build?
With all of the 30-day transformation stories, you see people who lose weight and build a bit of muscle. You look at these and think to yourself how quick and easy it is to build muscle — it’s a much slower process than you think.
But how much can you really expect to build in a month?
Joel Seedman, PhD, is an exercise physiologist who has trained people of various fitness levels for 16 years. He’s been noted saying “I’ve seen anywhere from a pound of muscle per month on the low end, all the way up to two pounds per week.”
While that doesn’t sound like much, it is… but what factors affect your ability to gain muscle?
Muscle Building Factors
Unless you measure your progress, chances are you don’t really know how much you’re building. If you do measure, however, don’t be upset if you are on the lower end of the gains spectrum.
There are a lot of variables that are out of your control — like your gender, age, muscle fiber type, and how long you’ve trained.
Men naturally have a higher level of testosterone than women. This makes building muscle much easier and faster for men.
Women, on the other hand, have to rely on an insulin-like human growth factor to do most of their muscle building. This is why women don’t have the same muscle bulk. It’s also why the biggest myth of “I don’t lift weights because I don’t want to get bulky” is bogus.
Knowing this, there is still some testosterone variance within the sexes as well. Some women will have higher levels of testosterone than other women — making them able to build muscle easier. Similarly, some men have lower testosterone than other men, which would make their potential for building muscle more limited.
Muscle Fiber Type
When looking at building muscle, your muscle fiber composition can mean something. Terms like “fast-twitch” and “slow-twitch” muscle fibers are thrown around, but what do they mean?
Your fast-twitch fibers are known as type 2 fibers and they are great at performing things that need strength, speed, and power. These are your “power” muscles for sprinting, jumping, and producing maximal force. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are known as type 1 and they are more for endurance activities like running for a distance.
We all have a mix of different muscle fibers, but some people can lean more heavily to one side or the other. Take, for example, a sprinter versus a marathon runner.
So what does this mean to you?
Fast-twitch fibers have a greater potential for growth. That means if you are fast-twitch dominant, you have the potential to build more muscle and quicker, than those who are slow-twitch dominant.
Unfortunately, this is mostly dictated through our genes.
Studies suggest the ideal range for building muscle is 18-25 years old. After 25, testosterone levels begin to drop a little — especially in men.
This will make building muscle a little more difficult, but not impossible. You can still gain plenty of muscle, but the rate at which you build it is generally highest while you are 18-25.
What’s worse, after the age of 40, there is a sharper drop in your hormones — this is when muscle building can become challenging. As long as you consistently train and eat right, you can still gain a solid amount of muscle after 40.
How Long You’ve Been Training
The term “newbie gains” refers to the amount and speed at which someone who starts training experiences. When you first start exercising, it won’t take much for your body to adapt and grow.
You will see faster growth and you will be able to progress and lift more weight much faster than a seasoned lifter. Unfortunately, as you train longer, the more effort it will take to see improvements.
One of the big exceptions to this is when a former athlete or an advanced lifter who takes some time off from training. This is called a period of deconditioning. Basically, the muscle you’ve built in the past and lost will be easier to gain back.
This has to do with how you’ve built neuromuscular connections. These are your pathways between your nervous system and the muscle itself. Your body will recognize when it is being forced to grow muscle.
Beginners need to forge these neuropathways, but a former athlete has already created these connections, they will naturally progress quicker.
So How Do You Build More Muscle?
As you see, there’s a lot we don’t have control over. What we do have control over, is our nutrition and how we train.
Muscles are built in the kitchen. Period.
If you really want to maximize the amount of muscle you can build, protein is a macronutrient you’re going to have to learn to love.
Look, lifting weights break down your muscles — it is the precursor to building muscle. Training, when coupled with adequate protein intake, will rebuild your muscles — making them bigger and stronger than before.
Sleep, recovery, and adequate protein intake is going to yield you maximum muscle-building benefits. Aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
While proper nutrition is key to building muscle, how you train can influence how well you can build muscle.
You will need to train consistently.
Next time you go into the gym, focus on heavy compound movements. You know, your bench press, overhead press, squats, and dumbbell and barbell exercises.
Performing exercises that train multiple joints need to be the bread and butter of your workout. Rows and pull-ups build your biceps, presses and push-ups build your triceps — utilize isolation movements after compound movements to completely exhaust a muscle.
Try to get three gym sessions in a week. This is going to give you plenty of time to get a solid workout in, but more importantly, it will give your body adequate time to recover and rebuild.
Wrapping It Up
When it comes down to building muscle, there are things we can and cannot control. We simply need to make the best of what we’ve been given.
It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, a seasoned athlete or never stepped foot into the gym, you can still build muscle — you just need to focus on what you can control.