If you’re asking “how much muscle can I gain in a month?” then the chances are you’d like an exact answer with some figures, and research to back it up.
The good news is that I can give you exactly those things, along with some effective, fast muscle-building strategies, which will help you to bulk up as much as possible in a month.
So read on, and I’ll do my best to answer this deceptively complex question.
Why You Need the Truth About Muscle Gain
It feels as though we can’t go anywhere without seeing adverts these days.
These adverts — especially when it comes to fitness products — are plastered in muscular, toned, good looking men and women.
Even if we do our best to ignore them, these ads still seep into our consciousness and give us a false idea of what the human body can achieve and in what timeframe.
If we base our goals on false assumptions, we simply won’t achieve results. You need to know the truth in order to set realistic targets.
When men are looking to build muscle, they commonly recall stories of the Hollywood celebrities who have built massive amounts of muscle in just a few months for their latest role. Christian Bale gained 80-100 pounds in just six months, to appear in Batman after appearing in The Machinist as a malnourished 120-pound worker.
What the media fail to point out is that a lot of that added weight was fat. This fat tends to hide itself a little easier when tensing your muscles, which tends to happen even subconsciously when you’re in front of the camera.
Bale would also have found it easier to build muscle quickly because he had been muscular previously, thanks to something called muscle memory.
You also see men in these six-week progress pictures where huge differences can be seen, but a variety of different tricks can be used to exaggerate changes.
And then there’s the Instagram stars that are absolutely huge, without an ounce of fat on them.
Yes, they work incredibly hard, but there’s the huge elephant in the room that almost no-one seems to mention…steroids. There is a real issue with steroid use in the industry and, even worse, the vast majority of gym go-ers will hide their steroid use and claim to be ‘natural’.
This only makes things worse for those that truly are natural and struggle to see large amounts of progress.
Men who believe the media hype may chop and change their weights routine too often, as they believe that results aren’t coming quickly enough.
On the flip side, women are often afraid to try weight training in case they bulk up too much, with many preferring to remain toned as opposed to massive.
However, the truth is that women that are completely jacked are weight training many times a week, for hours on end, and they’ll also be ‘supplementing’ to assist with muscle growth and recovery. And if you didn’t get the hint, I do mean steroids again there.
Obviously, none of these situations above are helpful to the average person looking to improve their physique as efficiently as possible.
How Muscle Growth Works
When muscles are damaged during lifting or other exercises, they repair themselves. During of the process of healing, they grow back bigger than before to help cope with further stresses and strains.
But what exactly is going on? And what amount of damage and subsequent repair can our muscles deal with, particularly short term?
Muscle growth is officially called muscle hypertrophy.
It is actually our existing muscle cells that grow bigger when we ‘gain’ muscle. It’s important to realise that we don’t grow new muscle cells. We are simply improving and strengthening the existing cells that we were born with.
There are two types of hypertrophy going on when muscles are damaged and repaired:
The first is known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Sarcoplasm is the fluid inside muscle cells. Due to muscle cells doing a lot more active work than, say a liver cell, they have more glycogen (fuel) storage potential in this fluid than other body cells do.
During sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the volume of fluid in each muscle cell actually increases (allowing the cell to hold more fuel and do more work). Because of this, the volume of the muscle as we see it increases.
The second form of hypertrophy is myofibrillar hypertrophy.
In this process, the muscle cell’s actin and myosin proteins levels increase. These are contractile proteins — they give the muscle its elasticity. As their numbers increase, the muscle volume will increase.
Any muscle building exercise will prompt some combination of sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy.
Powerlifting type exercises or a few reps of high weights will bring about myofibrillar hypertrophy. More reps with lighter weights induces sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which improves muscle stamina.
Natural Time Limits to Muscle Gain
In order to increase the sarcoplasmic fluid, and up the number of contractile proteins, your body has to process the proteins from your diet and transport them to the right places in the body.
The time this takes is known as the ‘protein turnover rate’.
The breakdown of damaged tissue and its replacement with new tissue takes different amounts of time for different cell types. The protein turnover rate in enzymes is 10 minutes and for the liver it is 10 days.
For muscles, the protein turnover rate is a patience-stretching 180 days, or 6 months. This is the minimum time you can expect to see anything close to your true muscle gaining potential when training naturally.
Now you’ve learned the theory, we’re going to give you the numbers.
These numbers look at what an average person can expect to gain in a single month. Needless to say, this excludes the use of illegal substances such as steroids.
Stuart Phillips PhD has been involved in many studies on muscle gain at McMaster University in Ontario. He expects the average person to gain between 4 and 7 pounds of muscle in a three month period.
Phillips says that he rarely sees someone gain more than a ½ pound in muscle a week, which works out at about 2 pounds of muscle gain per month.
Michael Colgan PhD, of the Colgan Institute of Nutritional Sciences, believes that because of the protein turnover rate, maximum muscle gain per day is 1 ounce. This works out at just under 2 pounds a month, which agrees closely with the research and findings of Phillips.
This means that any weight gain on top of those 2lb in muscle in a month is extremely likely to be water weight and fat. For the most part, this is unavoidable.
If this is less than you were hoping for, don’t panic. There are ways to increase your likelihood of putting on more muscle.
So, what can do to maximise your potential?
Maximise Your Muscle Growth Potential
One thing we can’t change is our genetic potential.
Your age will also affect the amount of muscle growth you can expect in a short period — young men during puberty have masses of the growth stimulant, testosterone, and levels in males and females (who never have as much testosterone, hence their smaller average size) drop as we age.
What you can change is your diet and exercise routine.
Damaged muscles need plenty of amino acids to repair themselves, so a high protein diet is a must. Protein shakes are essential for most people.
You also need an exercise routine well designed to inflict maximum muscle damage to get maximum repairs and muscle growth.
Tom Eastham, Fitness First’s Personal Trainer of the Year, recommends drop sets for attaining hypertrophy in a short period of time.
With drop sets, you start at a high weight and work as many reps as you can before lightening the weight slightly. When muscles tire again, move on to a lower weight and continue.
This will thoroughly stress the muscles allowing comprehensive re-growth.
East Carolina University also recommends spending longer (3-5 seconds) on the eccentric (lowering) phase of a lift. This shift in focus increased strength by 46% in their studies.
Beginners will see more muscle gain than pros, who will see gains slow down as they go on. This is commonly referred to as ‘noob gains’.
Also if you have been muscular before, and been out of training for a while, your muscles will build more quickly than someone who has never been muscular (again, muscle memory).
Now you have some definite answers, has this changed your goals?
Did you expect more or less muscle growth?
And what are you doing to maximise your potential?