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How Much Muscle Can You Actually Gain

When most people start hitting the gym regularly and/or sign up for a transformation challenge, then have a goal of losing fat and building muscle.


And, there are multiple ways to go about accomplishing both (some more effective than others).


Specifically, when it comes to building muscle, individuals usually tend to fall into one of two camps:


  • Main-gainers
  • Bulkers


The main-gainers are the perennially thin lifters who try to stay as lean as possible while trying to build muscle. More often than not, these individuals are more concerned with maintaining their slim physiques and six-packs than packing on quality muscle, which inevitably results in minimal (if any) progress.


On the other side of the spectrum are the hardcore, old school bulkers who embrace the “see food, eat it” approach to building muscle and pile back calories upon calories upon calories all for the sake of gainz. While these individuals do build some quality muscle mass, a direct result of their excessive calorie intake is a lot of unwanted body fat gain, too.

Suffice it to say that neither approach is ideal -- you don’t want to gain at such a slow rate that you can’t tell if you’re actually making progress. And, you don’t want to gain so quickly that you end up storing lots of fat.


The real path to optimal muscle growth lies somewhere in the middle, and we’re going to tell you how to do it.


But first, let’s answer a question many individuals have when embarking on a muscle-building journey…


How Much Muscle Can I Actually Gain?


While the idealist (naive) among us might think that with enough food, sleep, training, and supplements, we can continue to build muscle indefinitely, the truth of the matter is that we all have a genetic ceiling to how much muscle we can build naturally over the course of our life.


Some genetically gifted individuals can build quite a substantial amount of muscle, while others who aren’t as genetically gifted will have to fight tooth and nail to even build modest amounts of muscle.


If you ask most experts, they’ll say that with proper training, nutrition, and sleep, the average male can build 40-50 pounds of muscle over the course of their lifting career. The vast majority of which will be built during the first several (4-5) years of proper training.


Note that we emphasized “proper” training in regards to how much muscle you can build and how quickly you can build it.


“Proper” training entails utilizing the principle of progressive overload, using proper technique, choosing the right exercises, and performing a sufficient amount of quality reps and sets each week.


In other words, you have to have a reasonable training plan and execute it properly in order to maximize your muscle building potential.


Other factors that may affect how much muscle you can actually gain include both age and starting condition -- older individuals will generally gain less muscle than younger folks, and underweight people can gain a bit more muscle/weight overall.


So, what does this look like on a yearly basis if you’re just starting out? 


Men’s potential rate of muscle gain during the first few years of training is estimated to be:

  • Year 1: 20-25 lbs (~2lbs per month)
  • Year 2: 10-12 lbs (1lb per month)
  • Year 3: 5-6 lbs (0.5lbs per month)
  • Year 4+: 2.5-3lbs


Women’s potential rate of muscle gain during the first few years of training is estimated to be:

  • Year 1: 10-12 lbs (1lb per month)
  • Year 2: 5-6 lbs (0.5lbs per month)
  • Year 3: 2.5-3lbs
  • Year 4+: 0.75-1.5lbs


Again, these are estimates, and they assume you’re doing everything right -- you are eating and training appropriately.


Now, let’s say your training, nutrition, and/or sleep has been suboptimal and you’ve been “working out” for several years, but only gained 10-15 pounds of muscle. You’re still in the beginner phase of your muscle-building career and have a lot of muscle still to accrue.


How to Build Muscle & Strength Fast


If you want to build muscle as quickly and efficiently as possible and reach your natural potential, you don’t need to follow any complicated training programs or absurd diets.


You just need to follow a few simple steps:

  • Do a lot of heavy compound lifting
  • Consume enough protein
  • Consume enough total calories
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night
  • Use the right supplements


Let’s now look a little closer at each of these.


Do a Lot of Heavy Compound Lifting


Resistance training is essential to reaching your maximum muscle building potential. It provides the stimulus your muscles need to adapt, recover, and (most importantly) grow.


Using the right training program will make a huge difference in how quickly you build muscle. You want to follow a sensible program that focuses on performing quality exercises with a reasonable amount of volume, such as the kind included with our transformation challenges.


Notice that we said do “a lot” of compound lifting, not “only.”


The truth is that you need both compound and isolation exercises to build the most muscle possible. It’s just that the majority of your training should be biased towards compound exercises like squats, rows, presses, and deadlifts.


The reason for this is that they recruit a lot of muscle and provide a tremendous muscle building bang for your exercise buck.


Isolation exercises are there to help you increase your total amount of training volume as well as hit the smaller muscle groups which aren’t specifically emphasized with compound exercises.


And, as we mentioned above, you must push for progressive overload in your training sessions, meaning you must continually strive to force your muscles to do more work -- lift more weight for more reps over time.


Consume Enough Protein


Protein is paramount for building muscle. It literally supplies the building blocks (amino acids) the body needs to repair and build muscle tissue.


Without sufficient protein intake, your body simply doesn’t have enough raw materials to build (or repair) muscle.


The current body of evidence indicates that to optimally support muscle growth, you need to consume between 0.8-1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.


So, if you weigh 180 pounds, then you’d want to consume between 144-180 grams of protein each day.


Truth be told, many individuals have difficulty consuming enough protein (and calories) each day.


This is when it’s helpful to have a high-quality supplement to help you hit your protein requirements for the day.


1UP Nutrition provides an extensive line of protein powder options for individuals looking to supplement their protein intake to support muscle recovery, growth, and even fat loss!


1UP protein powders use only the highest-quality ingredients, mix easily, and taste absolutely delicious.


Click here to learn more about 1UP Nutrition’s varied protein powder offerings and find the best one for YOU!


Consume Enough Total Calories


As we’ve said countless times before when discussing how to lose weight fast, at the end of the day, calories are king.


If you want to build muscle as fast as possible, then you need to consume the right amount of calories to support this goal.


Essentially, building muscle entails gaining weight, and in order to gain weight, you must be in a calorie surplus, whereby you’re consuming more calories (energy) than you expend each day.


The question becomes “how large of a surplus should I eat to build muscle and limit fat gain?”


This is a bit trickier to answer as everyone will have a slightly different surplus based on their age, activity levels, training, genetics, etc.


Based on the current body of evidence, the vast majority of individuals looking to optimize muscle building and limit fat gain will thrive on a moderate calorie surplus (10 to 15% above maintenance).


For example, if your maintenance calories are 3000. 10% of that would be 300 calories.


So, you would want to eat ~3300 calories each day (while also consuming 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight) to fuel muscle growth.


Now, this is only an estimation of the calorie surplus needed to build muscle. If you find that you’re not gaining weight at the desired rate you want to be gaining (see the chart above for how fast you should roughly be gaining), you can add 100-200 calories to your diet each day until you are gaining at the requisite rate to maximize muscle growth.


Conversely, if you’re gaining too much weight each week, scale back your calorie intake 100-200 calories per day.


After a couple weeks of tracking your calories and bodyweight, you’ll have an idea of the optimal number of calories to eat each day to fuel muscle growth and limit fat gain.


Get Enough Sleep


The importance of sleep cannot be emphasized heavily enough, especially when it comes to muscle building.


In short, if you’re not getting enough quality sleep each night, you’re never going to reach your full muscle building potential.


The reasons for this are many.


For starters, lack of sleep disrupts production of anabolic hormones that drive muscle recovery and growth. Sleep deprivation also impairs energy metabolism (how your body uses protein, carbs, and fats). It even accelerates protein (muscle) breakdown and promotes fat storage.


Moreover, not getting enough sleep also reduces exercise performance. And, if you’re not able to create overload in your training sessions, you won’t gain much muscle.


Suffice it to say, that you need to treat sleep with as much respect as you do your diet and training.


Use the Right Supplements


Diet, training and sleep are the foundation of successful muscle building. Without these three in place, no amount of supplements will work.


However, if your diet, training, and sleep is on point, using the right supplements can enhance your recovery and boost your performance -- which leads to better muscle growth!


Two of our favorite “staple” supplements to use when trying to maximize muscle gain are protein powder and creatine.


As we mentioned above, consuming enough protein is essential to muscle recovery and growth as it supplies your body with the building blocks it needs to repair and grow. Protein powders can seriously help individuals with low appetites as well as those who just don’t consume enough dietary protein to hit their macros -- ultimately fueling the muscle-building machinery in the body.


1UP Nutrition offers an extensive line of delicious-tasting protein powders to help gym rats hit their protein needs for the day all the while supporting muscle recovery and growth.


In addition to protein, the other staple supplement for those looking to enhance muscle growth is creatine.


Simply put, if you want to maximize your muscle building progress, you want to supplement with creatine.


It’s extensively researched, proven effective, and safe. Creatine flat out works, period. End of Story.


We include a full 5 grams of creatine in every serving of our post-workout supplement, Pure Rebuild.


Also included in every serving of Pure Rebuild is 2.5 grams of betaine anhydrous, another proven muscle-building supplement, electrolytes, and essential amino acids to support muscle recovery and growth following training.


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