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How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle?

This guide is the result of one year's research into what modern science proves is the most efficient way to build muscle. It's for both men and women.

I wrote this guide because — even in 2017 — much of the casual weightlifting advice is unsubstantiated and misleading. I can't blame most bloggers for it, because many of the facts in this guide have not been broadly published outside of scientific literature.

This guide contradicts much of the popular bodybuilding recommendations, including the myth that women have a harder time gaining beginner muscle, that exercise rest times should be kept to 1–3 minutes, that you have to regularly switch up your exercises, that machine exercises are less effective than barbell ones, and so on.

Throughout this guide, I consistently support my claims by citing studies and showing you how to measure your weekly gains so you can confirm you're growing.

Speaking of growth, a beginning bodybuilder can expect ~20lbs (9kg) of muscle in 3 months when closely following a researched program like this. (After that, gains slow down drastically.) These results are achievable for every man and woman. Having “bad genetics” is not a thing that prevents anyone from building beginner muscle. That's yet another myth we'll dive into.

How Fast Can You Really Build Muscle?

Now, here’s a realistic expectation of how fast an average natural male can put on muscle. Assuming diet, training and rest are optimal and consistent, you could gain between 1 – 2 pounds of lean muscle per month.

Are you shocked… disappointed?

Sorry, but that’s the reality you’re working with here. If it were really that easy… if there was some magic supplement or program that could add muscle faster, skinny guys in the gym would be a rare sight.

This is just a rough idea, taking into account some of the essential growth factors I talk about earlier. Some people may put on a little less, and some a little more, but don’t expect huge mass gains in a few weeks. Usually beginners will gain the most muscle in their first year, then the rate of growth will be slightly less with each subsequent year.

I really don’t think 1 -2 pounds of muscle each months is actually that bad. I mean, in just 6 months you could add around 10 pounds of noticeable muscle to your frame, and get dramatically stronger.

Sounds good to me!

Set small goals for yourself, like how much you want to gain in the next 6 months or a year. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll need to work your ass off to make these kinds of gains. You’ll need a good training program, diet plan, rest and patience to see it through and hit your goals.

Most people don’t stick to things long enough or put in the hard work required for building muscle. Don’t be like everyone else, be one of the few people who actually set a goal and do whatever it takes to see it through and achieve their dream!

In addition to being scientifically accurate, this guide is also comprehensive. I dislike tutorials that provide 75% of what you need to know then leave you with unanswered questions. To make sure this guide is your complete reference for building muscle, I've spent a year fine-tuning this to include legitimate nutrition and workout plans.

In addition to being scientifically accurate, this guide is also comprehensive To make sure this guide is your complete reference for building muscle.

Workouts to Gain Muscle

In short, muscle is built by progressive overload. Simply put, this means you must continually overload the musculature with resistance, most commonly in the form of lifting weights.

There must be a strategy, though, and it goes something like this.

One should pick a handful of movements, practice them and aim to get better at performing them every time they train. So let’s say you plan to work out 3 times per week and you’ve decided to do squats, chin ups, and bench presses every session.

The aim is to start with a light load and progressively add weight to the bar every session. Most beginners will do well starting out with the traditional 5x5 or 3x5 (Starting Strength) routines and progressing from there.

Over time as one gets stronger (adding weight to the bar), muscle growth occurs. It’s inevitable and has to happen as long as one is eating well. More on this in a minute…

After 6 months to a year, the novice lifter will begin to find great difficulty in recovering from heavy squats and pressing every other day. This is the turning point in which they morph into what we call the intermediate trainee.

An intermediate trainee is someone who can no longer make steady progress every single workout. Instead of aiming to make improvements every training session, their focus should be getting stronger by the end of every week.

Once the intermediate has been training in an effective manner for some time (a few years) they begin to approach the advanced stages of the iron game in which one aims to make strength gains every 3-4 weeks at best.

Eating for Muscle Gains

So now you know you must become strong and understand there is a genetic ceiling to how much muscle you can actually carry, but how do you eat for muscle gains?

In simple terms, the body has to synthesize muscle tissue from energy. All the training in the world won’t produce the muscle gains if there isn’t enough energy supplied to fuel the accumulation of new muscle tissue.

Plainly, you must eat more calories than you expend over a period of time.

It takes protein to build muscle; so anywhere from 1.1-1.4 grams per pound of lean body mass is a fine and safe suggestion.[3] Oh, and don’t worry, excess protein is likely not hard on the kidneys as was once believed.[4]

Then we simply need to add calories from carbohydrate and fat to create the caloric surplus.

How much of a calorie surplus does one need?

In general, anywhere from 300-600 calories over maintenance on lifting days is a good starting point. Females will want to err on the lower end of this due to maximal rates of muscle they can gain.

On off days, I’d simply eat your body’s maintenance calories.

What about carbs and fat?

Generally speaking, on training days I tend to set fat at 20 percent of the total intake and fill in the rest of the diet with carbohydrate (mainly from fruit and starch). For non-training days, as long as you meet protein requirements (as stated above), I like to increase the fat intake to about 25-35 percent to make my meals a bit more interesting and tasty.

Weight gain for the beginner should be around 1lb per week and about half that per week for the intermediate and above if you want the gains in body weight to be in favor of muscle, rather than fat.