How Fast Can You Gain Muscle Realistically?

“How fast can I gain muscle” is probably what is on the mind of all lifters but especially beginners. You want to look big and strong and you want to know how long it will take you.

But how fast can you gain muscle, really?

Strictly speaking, your potential rate/speed of muscle growth depends on your training experience and your current muscular development.

So the more strength and muscle you have the slower the progress will get. Genetics can have an influence, but I would assume that for a very large majority of people the difference will be insignificant.

I use the wording “potential rate of muscle growth” because in order to gain muscle you need to the right training, nutrition, and recovery. The fact that there is a potential to gain muscle is of course not the same as you actually gaining that muscle.

Newbie Gains

An interesting fact which can be encouraging for beginner lifters (both men and women), is that beginners have an incredible muscle growth potential. When compared to more experienced lifters it is huge!

The rate of which complete beginners can build muscle is actually so big that beginners who are not aware of this initial muscle building phase, think that they are doing something wrong with their training when they see their progress slowing down a lot after 6-12 months of training.

Also, beginners will pretty much see great and fast results even if their training, nutrition, and recovery is not that great.

If you are a beginner, this does not mean you should not care about these things. It is better to take the right approach from the beginning so you won’t get problems later.

This initial muscle building phase is popularly referred to as the “newbie gains”. And if you are starting out lifting weights and reading this, then I want to emphasize to you: newbie gains are real!

Muscle Growth Guidelines

Two of the top experts in the industry have made some excellent guidelines on muscle growth potential according to the level of experience.

These guidelines provide a great insight into what you can expect from your muscle growth and how fast you will gain muscle if you are doing everything right.

As you can clearly see in these tables beginners and people in their first year of training have potential to gain so much more muscle than people that have been training for years.

Lyle McDonald's guidelines

According to Lyle Mcdonalds starting age and weight plays a role. Additionally, women can cut those numbers in half approximately.

Alan Aragon Guidelines

Muscle Growth Potential of Women

Technically, women do have a lower absolute muscle growth potential. Women simply have smaller muscles than men.

However, studies have shown that women and men gain the same relative muscle mass i.e. growth relative to the existing muscle.

On top of that women weigh less and they genetically have a higher fat percentage. Because of this, Alan Aragon’s guidelines serve a good point of reference for women.

So I Can’t Gain 10 kg of Muscle in 3 Months?

Perhaps you are looking at these tables and think it seems slower or contradicts what you have seen or heard elsewhere, e.g. a friend at the gym telling you about his results or promises made by workout programs or supplements.

If this is the case, what you should be questioning is whether that gain was really only muscle. Even if you are doing a lean bulk, it is very normal to gain fat together with muscle. Actually, to a certain degree, it is optimal for muscle growth to do so.

The fat gain, of course, adds to the total weight gain.

How Much Fat Should Then Be Expected?

First of all, for optimal muscle growth, you need a calorie surplus. But it should be a relatively small and controlled surplus.

Because if you are not paying attention to your total amount of calories, and just stuffing your face every time you have the chance, then you will probably gain an unnecessarily large amount of fat. That is what I did five years ago.

Most of the experienced fitness coaches I have studied, usually recommend beginners and intermediates to go for a muscle to fat gaining ratio in the range of 1:3/4 – 1:1.

In other words, for every kg/pound of muscle expect to gain 0.75 – 1 kg/pound of fat.

Why Fat Gain Is Optimal

The reason why some fat gain is optimal (especially for beginners and intermediates) is that you can’t maximize strength and muscle growth while preventing fat gain completely. Your body is not perfect in that way that it can funnel all surplus calories into strictly muscle gains (regretfully).

some fat is optimal

Even for advanced lifters completely eliminating fat gain is going to be difficult and perhaps make your life unnecessarily strict.

So it could be a better option to accept a small amount of fat gain (e.g. around holidays and vacations), but then balance it out with a period in a calorie deficit before the accumulated excess fat has resulted in an unwanted high body fat percentage.

The problem with not having a maximized muscle growth as a beginner and intermediate is that a lot of potential muscle is left on the table. As you see in the stats above the growth potential is very high as a beginner and intermediate.

Here is an example:

Ben and his identical twin brother Bob started their fitness journey at the same time and they are now in their second year of training.

While Ben is excited about having no fat gain at all, Bob feels fine about gaining a bit of fat. Also, this means Bob can eat more of his favorite chocolate and he is pretty excited about that.

In the second year of training, Ben gains 6.6 pounds / 3 kg of muscle and no fat, while Bob gains 11 pounds / 5 kg of muscle and 11 pounds / 5 kg of fat.

Bob is now not only much stronger than his twin brother Ben, but Bob also knows that he should be able to burn those 11 pounds / 5 kg of excess fat while retaining strength and muscle much faster than Ben is able to catch up with him.

The Awesome Nutrition Guide

If you are interested in learning more about getting your nutrition right, then you should take a look at my top free resource for both men and women.

It is a 50+ pages pdf that I have titled “The Awesome Nutrition Guide”. It also got an accompanying email course.

I would like it to serve as your blueprint for getting the body you want.

It has everything you need to know about getting rid of your unwanted body fat and building muscle.

It also covers in-depth what I believe to be the biggest sticking point for people who can’t seem to control their weight.

Get it all for free as a welcome bonus when you sign up my email list.

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My name is Marcus, I am a lawyer (LL.M.) and the founder of this website. Besides sometimes doing lawyer stuff, I like to write about fitness and health and share what I have found “works” for people like YOU. If you want to know more about me and my vision for this website then you can click here.

2 comments… add one
  • Amanda Moffitt Dec 8, 2017 @ 0:16

    Awesome! Thank you!

    • Marcus Dec 8, 2017 @ 1:07

      No problem! Means a lot to me that you found it useful 🙂

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