This is probably one of the most asked questions when it comes to building muscle. How quickly can build muscle as a natural?
Sadly, it’s also probably one of the most misunderstood too.
This is for a couple of reasons, namely the misinformation within some parts of the fitness industry and the dishonesty of social media, coupled with our desperate human need for instant gratification and the unwillingness to dig in for the long haul and work hard.
Unrealistic expectations that are impossible to live up to and create a cycle of program hopping and dirty bulking in an attempt to quickly build muscle mass. Unsurprisingly this never works.
So, it’s time to break the cycle.
In this article we’ll look how much muscle you can build, how long it’ll take you and how to do it, to give you a clear, honest answer to the question “how fast can you build muscle?”
The rate at which you can gain muscle mass and the amount you can gain overall varies from person to person based on a number of factors:
However, even given this variation most people will fall within a well-established range in regard to the rate at which they can build muscle mass and under optimal conditions (dialled in diet and training plan) you can expect:
I know this might seem slow but don’t underestimate the difference even adding a little bit of muscle to your body can make to how you look.
Of course, you could try to dirty bulk and gain as much weight as you can, as fast as you can but I don’t recommend you do this for a number of reasons that you can learn about here, but suffice to say it’s not worth it in the long run.
As for how much total muscle you can build the consensus is that:
Again, this is under optimal conditions and varies from person to person, but this is the total maximum amount you could expect to gain in your lifetime.
I want to go into this being very clear that 99% of what you hear about rapid muscle gain is bullshit. However, there are a few exceptions where you may build muscle faster than normal (not rapidly).
Perhaps the most well-known instance of this is ‘noob gains’ or ‘newbie gains’, the period of time where someone new to weightlifting can see faster-than-normal progress for a limited amount of time.
During this time, beginners can build as much as 10 or even 20 lbs of muscle in their first year of training.
However, this amount is likely to be lower as it requires intense focus and dedication to your training, diet and recovery, which is not something most beginners can do or particularly know how to do due to their inexperience.
Not to mention that the fact that the potency of this effect will vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors including genetics.
Other situations where you can build muscle faster than normal include:
Ok, so at this point, you should have a pretty good idea of how much muscle you can build and how fast you can build it.
However, you might still be wondering, “what does this mean practically?” and this is what we’re going to look at next.
Building muscles come down to consistent execution of several factors which combined to create muscle gain. Without doing all these things you will see poor progress or no progress at all.
To build muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus, as it these additional calories that your body needs to fuel the muscle-building process. However, it’s important to know that you only need a small surplus of 100 – 400 over your maintenance calories for this to happen.
The best way of calculating your calories needs is to take your body weight in lbs and multiply it by 16, this will give you a good starting point.
Protein is the building blocks of your muscle mass, which means you need to get enough in your diet to help build muscle. Too little and you’ll struggle to build muscle but get too much and you’ll negatively impact the intake of fat and carbs.
Research (I’ve covered it here)consistently shows that an intake of 0.7 – 1g per lb of body weight is optimal for building and maintaining muscle mass.
Whilst your diet is important when it comes to building muscle it means nothing if you’re not providing your body with the stimulus it needs to signal muscle growth. Strength training is this signal.
This means you want to do 3 – 4 workouts per week with a focus on big compound exercises like the squat, bench press, shoulder press, chin-ups and rows.
Related: Strength Training Mistakes to Avoid
Not only do you want to work out regularly, but you also want to make sure that you’re getting stronger over time. This is because by gradually increasing your workout stimulus you tell your body that it needs to adapt by getting bigger and stronger.
This is called progressive overload and it can be achieved by increasing your reps, sets or the weight on the bar. I go into more detail on this, here.
Finally, you need to track your progress as you go. This means recording your weight and body measurements, taking progress photos as well as being aware of things like how you’re sleeping, how you’re feeling during your workouts and how your clothes fit.
This allows you to not only ensure you’re making real, tangible progress but it also allows you to see where you might need to make adjustments as you go to stay on track.
I cover all of this and more in detail, here.
Ok to sum up, here’s what you need to know. Building muscle is a slow and steady process, it’s not an all-out, balls to the wall endeavour and anyone promising you that is full of crap.
For the vast majority of people (that includes you) this is how fast you can build muscle:
And this is how much you can expect to build in total over your lifetime:
Now, obviously, there is a huge variety in the number of muscle people building depending on their training, age, genetics, experience, diet and more.
However, to give you the best chance to build a meaningful amount of muscle you want to do 5 things consistently: