Truth is that building muscle takes time and effort.
It can even feel arduous at times, making fat loss seem like a breeze comparatively.
Still, building muscle and strength is an important part of living a healthy life and fortifying yourself against illness and injury.
Many individuals often ask us “how much muscle can I gain?” when entering our transformation challenges.
Today, we discuss the factors that affect how much muscle you can gain as well as give you a rough estimate for how much muscle you can expect to gain during your lifetime.
What Factors Affect Muscle Gain?
Men have higher levels of anabolic hormones (such as testosterone) compared to women, which can make it easier for men to build muscle than women.
Research indicates that women tend to have roughly 2/3 muscle mass than men do.
More specifically, women have about ½ the muscle mass in their upper body compared to men and about ¾ the muscle mass in their lower body compared to men.
Now, another thing to consider is that not only do hormone levels vary between the sexes, but they also vary between members of the same sex. For instance, one woman may have higher testosterone levels than another, which may be part of the reason she may be able to build more muscle faster.
Still, at the end of the day, if you’re training hard and eating right, you can still build muscle and get results. It just may not be as much as another individual.
Muscle building favors the younger individuals hitting the gym. There’s no other way to say it.
They are in their prime, which means they can handle higher training volumes, heavier weights, and greater frequencies. Their recovery and hormone levels are also greater compared to older individuals, which ultimately means they have an easier time building muscle compared to older individuals.
Still, though, research shows that even older athletes can still build muscle and get results if their training and diet are on point.
The takeaway here is that regardless of age, continue to train hard and eat right and you can still gain muscle.
Muscle Fiber Composition
There are two main types of muscle fibers in the body -- slow twitch and fast twitch.
Fast-twitch fibers have the greater potential for growth, which means that if you have a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, you may be able to build more muscle as opposed to someone who has a higher proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Where things get a bit more complicated is that different muscle groups within your own body may have different compositions of fast twitch vs slow twitch.
For instance, your quads may have a lot of fast twitch fibers, which may allow them to grow bigger more quickly, while your biceps may have more slow-twitch fibers and may take longer to grow.
Again, as we said above, regardless of your fiber type, you can still build muscle, how quickly it happens, and how much you can build overall will vary.
Another factor to consider when figuring out how much muscle can you really gain is your training experience or “age”.
Basically, the longer you’ve been training (properly and consistently), the less capacity your body has to build more muscle as you’ve probably already built a fair amount of it.
Novices are untrained individuals who have a large capacity for muscle growth (given the right diet and training program). In fact, they may be able to gain an average of 10-20 pounds of muscle in their first year
The longer you train, the slower your rate of gains will be, meaning it could take between 8-12 months to add your next 5-10 pounds of muscle.
The reason for this is that we all have a genetic limit of adaptation.
Essentially, there’s an “upper limit” to how much muscle you can build.
The closer you get to your limit, the harder it is to build even small amounts of muscle.
Generally speaking, beginners can expect to gain between 10-20 pounds of muscle during their first year of training (genetics will play a role in this), 5-10 pounds in their second year of training, and 3-6 pounds of muscle in their third year.
How to Build Muscle
Building muscle has been overly complicated in recent years, but the reality is it’s pretty straightforward.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It will take hard work (a lot of it), consistency, and dedication, but the actual process of building muscle is pretty straightforward.
Lift Heavy Weights
Lifting weights (resistance training) provides a very powerful stimulus to skeletal muscle tissue, telling it to grow bigger, stronger, and more resilient.
Where most individuals get tripped up with resistance training is that they don’t push themselves hard enough in their workouts. They simply show up, knock out a few easy sets of 8-12 reps and call it a day.
The truth is, you’re going to have to continually push your muscles to do more during workouts (progressive overload), which forces them to adapt.
A good resistance training program is built on a foundation of compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, pull ups) using good technique and rounded out with isolation exercises to bring up smaller muscle groups.
As powerful as resistance training is for telling your body to grow bigger and stronger, it won’t make a lick of difference if your nutrition is on point.
What we mean by that is that you can train as hard as you want twice a day seven days a week, but if you’re not eating enough calories or protein, then you will not build muscle.
To gain muscle, you need to both train hard and consume enough total calories and protein.
Food supplies your body with the raw materials (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) it needs to recover, repair, and grow.
If you need help figuring out how many calories you need to eat to gain muscle and strength, click here.
Hopefully, the information in this article helps you have a realistic view of what kind of results are possible when your diet, training, and sleep are on point, which will help you avoid program hopping, searching for quick fixes, or falling prey to the latest fitness fads constantly spammed on the internet and social media outlets.
- Lindle, R. S., Metter, E. J., Lynch, N. A., Fleg, J. L., Fozard, J. L., Tobin, J., Hurley, B. F. (1997). Age and gender comparisons of muscle strength in 654 women and men aged 20–93 yr. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83(5), 1581–1587. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1241
- Miller, A.E.J., MacDougall, J.D., Tarnopolsky, M.A. et al. Gender differences in strength and muscle fiber characteristics. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 66, 254–262 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00235103
- Mark D. Peterson, Paul M. Gordon. Resistance Exercise for the Aging Adult: Clinical Implications and Prescription Guidelines. The American Journal of Medicine, 2011; 124 (3): 194 DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.08.020