The question of how much muscle growth you can get in a month or year arises regularly in weight training and bodybuilding forums and is a feature of many enticing advertisements on associated web sites and in magazines. Such ads entice us to subscribe to this or that course or book or supplement to learn how to pack on an amazing amount of muscle in what seems to be a remarkably short time.
A typical example could be: “Gain 20-30 lbs of lean muscle in 10 weeks with my nutrition and training guide.” Do the math: That’s 2 to 3 pounds of muscle per week.
Not bad if you can get it, except you’ve got almost no chance of achieving that rate of lean muscle growth. I won’t say 20 to 30 pounds of total weight gain might not be possible for some highly-geared young males, including muscle, fat, water and carbohydrate storage -- but for lean muscle? . . . forget it. And I’m talking about natural training without the help of anabolic steroids.
A Reasonable Target for Muscle BuildingIn fact, the Yahoo! Supertraining forum discussed this and came up with a consensus on the achievable lean muscle gains in one month or year.
The variables are many, including age, gender, physical condition, genetics, diet quality, and of course, training program. And there are limits. The increases you achieve in three months may not be sustained over six or twelve months.
On the Supertraining forum, Anthony Pitruzzello, PhD, came up with a potential achievable range of approximately 1.5 to 5 pounds of additional lean muscle per month, after researching scientific studies.
Complicating Factors in Rate of Muscle GrowthThe issue is complicated by how muscle is constituted. Muscle comprises protein tissues like muscle fibers and connective tissue but also blood, nerves and water and glycogen -- the storage form of carbohydrate, which includes water. Because water and carbohydrate get stored together as glycogen, this can add a considerable amount of weight when a person is fully "loaded." This tends to pump the muscles and body up a bit. This storage can be lost when the person exercises hard and long or goes on a low-carb diet. It's easy to see how the advertising people can get cute with this fact when it comes to pronouncing how much muscle can be gained with their product.
The Final Word on Muscle GainsThe final summary of the Supertraining deliberations includes this quote from an expert in the field, Professor Michael Rennie, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Nottingham:
"I have no data of my own but I would guess that 5 lb per month would be on the high side and 1.5- 2 lb a month is reasonable."
The best way to interpret this would be to consider it applicable over a range of existing body weights and starting points, and that a higher gain could be possible for an initial or early month with much less growth thereafter. Overall, 15 to 25 pounds per year could be a good estimate.
Even allowing for some fluctuation in water and carbohydrate storage, this is nowhere near the more extreme promises of 30 pounds in 10 weeks. You have to work hard, eat right and be patient to build muscle; there is no other way.
Carruthers, Pitruzzello, Joleti, Baye, Davis, Garrison. Rate of Hypertrophy. Supertraining on Yahoo, April 2008.