“Gain 15 pounds of solid muscle in a month!”
We’ve all seen marketing hype like this, promising rapid gains if you buy a certain product or workout program. This can lead to unrealistic muscle gain expectations and disappointment down the line.
So, what is a realistic average muscle gain per month?
As a gym owner and personal trainer, I’ve been helping people build muscle for the past 37 years. I can tell you that most people have unrealistic expectations regarding their rate of muscle gain. Part of my role as a trainer is to temper those expectations with reality.
In this article, I’ll explain a realistic monthly average muscle gain. I’ll also explore the factors that determine your rate of muscle growth and provide guidance on optimizing your muscle gain potential.
What is the Average Rate of Muscle Gain?
There is no definitive answer as to what an average rate of muscle gain is. Many variables affect how much muscle each person can pack onto their frame. As a result, the number can vary widely from one person to the next.
So, the best we can do is to provide a rough approximation. This will give you a ballpark figure that will provide you with realistic muscle gain expectations. It will also allow you to identify unrealistic marketing hype and save you from burning your hard-earned cash.
I’ve seen many people ditch a perfectly good program because they’ve only been gaining one or two pounds of muscle per month while mistakenly expecting faster progress. Knowing a realistic muscle gain goal will help you stick with what is working.
Keep in mind that this discussion is about natural muscle gain. If you decide to go the synthetic route, your gains will come faster, but you will have to deal with health, ethics, and legal issues.
So, suppose you are a guy following an effective workout program, eating for hypertrophy, and getting sufficient rest and recovery. In that case, a gain of 1-2 pounds of muscle per month is realistic in your first year of training.
On the other hand, women can expect to gain about half as much muscle as men in the same time frame.
For people who are used to unrealistic marketing hype, that might not sound like much. Yet, that’s twelve to twenty-four pounds of muscle in a year. Imagine what your body would look like with 20 pounds of lean muscle tissue. That would make for a pretty impressive transformation.
It is possible to gain as much as 10 pounds in a month when you go on a bulking program. But for many people, the majority of that gain is from body fat and water weight. You may look bigger under a sweatshirt, but when stripped down, you reveal a soft physique that lacks any definition.
How Much Total Muscle Can You Gain?
The average rate of 1-2 pounds of muscle gain does not go on indefinitely. If it did, you’d gain hundreds of pounds of muscle after twenty years of training. You can expect to gain about half of your total muscle gain potential in the first year of your training. After that, your gains will steadily diminish.
A realistic total muscle gain goal is 40-50 pounds. So, a newbie might gain twenty pounds in the first year, 12 in the second year, and four each in the next two years. Muscle gains come much more slowly from about the fifth year of training. As you build more size, it becomes increasingly more complex to make further increases.
Variables that Affect Your Rate of Muscle Gain
Several factors combine to determine a person’s muscle-building ability. Some are beyond your control, while others are lifestyle factors. Here’s a breakdown:
Men have a substantial muscle-building advantage over women. Their muscle fibers are larger, more numerous than women’s, and have greater strength potential.
A 1985 study compared five elite professional male and female bodybuilders’ cross-sectional area, fiber area, and fiber number. The average cross-sectional area of the men was double that of the women, with the mean fiber area nearly double. The men also had a larger ratio of type II versus type I muscle fibers. Type II fibers are more associated with muscle gain than type I fibers. 
Men also have higher levels of the essential anabolic hormone, testosterone, which orchestrates muscle development.
Because of these factors, women can expect to gain about half as much muscle as men. So, a woman’s average realistic muscle gain is 0.5-1 pound per month in the first year of training.
Your muscle-building potential is partly decided at birth. Your genetic makeup determines if you have a muscle-building advantage. Here are the key genetic determinants of muscle growth.
The fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are also referred to as type II fibers, are specifically developed for activities that are high-intensity and explosive. They have a tremendous potential for growth and can generate a great deal of force in a short amount of time.
You mainly recruit your fast-twitch fibers when you perform intense weight training in the 5-12 rep range.
Type I muscle fibers, commonly known as slow-twitch muscle fibers, are specifically built for endurance activities. They can maintain contractions for extended periods without fatigue, even though their growth potential is considerably reduced. These fibers are usually utilized for sports such as long-distance swimming, cycling, and marathon running.
An individual’s genetic makeup significantly determines the balance between fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. The more fast-twitch fibers a person has, the greater their muscle-building potential.
Much research has been done on the actinin-3 (ACTN3) gene, one of the genetic variables influencing muscle growth. This gene oversees the manufacture of a protein known as alpha-actinin-3, which is located in the fibers of fast-twitch muscles. These fibers partly control the generation of explosive power and are at their peak activity during sports such as sprinting and weightlifting.
It has been discovered that people who have a particular version of the ACTN3 gene, which is referred to as the R577X variant, have a lower quantity of alpha-actinin-3 in their muscle fibers. The upshot of this is a reduction in the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers and a loss in the power and strength of the muscles.
A 2013 study measured the muscle volume in the quadriceps femoris of 51 untrained men before and after nine weeks of leg extensions. The men who had the R577X variant had lower levels of muscle gain. 
The myostatin gene is yet another genetic component that can affect muscle contraction. When it comes to regulating muscle growth, myostatin is a protein that has a detrimental role. It has been discovered that individuals who possess a genetic mutation in the myostatin gene have a higher muscle-building potential. This is because the protein is unable to attach to its receptors as efficiently, which ultimately results in a reduction in the inhibition of muscle growth.
A 2013 study published in Experimental Gerontology treated mice with a myostatin inhibitor. This resulted in significant increases in both muscle mass and muscle fiber size. 
Metabolism plays a significant role in muscle-building potential. A person with a faster metabolism will find it easier to consume the caloric surplus needed to build muscle mass. They are also better able to partition and utilize nutrients.
Genetics plays a crucial part in shaping an individual’s metabolism, with specific genetic variations affecting both aspects. Genetic variants influence the rate at which the body consumes calories and the efficiency of metabolic processes.
The activity of enzymes can be altered due to these variations, which can lead to alterations in the pace at which metabolic processes occur. As an illustration, certain variations in the genes involved in fat metabolism can result in a slower metabolism, making it more challenging for a person to shed excess weight.
Genetics plays a role in how the body reacts to exercise. Particular genetic variations can impact how the body adjusts to various forms of exercise, resulting in differences in how muscles develop and react to physical activity.
A 2022 meta-study analyzed the results from 24 previous studies involving more than 3,000 people. It was found that muscle growth and strength, cardiovascular improvements, and anaerobic power are all largely determined by genetic factors. This was the case even when the exact same exercise program was followed.
“Our study found 13 genes that have a role in exercise outcomes, and we found that specific alleles contained within these genes are more suited to certain aspects of fitness,” the lead researcher said.
Age is a significant factor in muscle gain potential. From age 30 onward, the body naturally reduces its production of essential anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.
At the same time, we start to lose muscle mass steadily. For every decade from the age of 30, the rate of loss is 3-8 percent of lean muscle tissue. The body’s ability to synthesize protein is also negatively affected by age.
It is still possible for older people to gain a significant amount of muscle. However, due to these age-related factors, they will be operating at a natural disadvantage compared to a person in their twenties.
Beginner resistance trainers will experience faster muscle gains than those who have been training for years. These ‘beginner gains’ result from the body’s adaptation to the sudden new stress of resistance training.
Rapid strength gains, sometimes as much as 100%, can be experienced in the first few months of training. These results are from neuromuscular adaptations that improve coordination, muscle fiber recruitment, and neural pathway efficiency.
After about a year of training, the body will have fully adapted to the demands of resistance training. As a result, gaining new muscle will be more challenging. You will have to place increasingly higher demands on the muscle by utilizing intensity-enhancing techniques.
- Increasing the weight
- Increasing the time under tension
- Utilizing drop sets and supersets
As stated earlier, average muscle gains of 12-24 pounds are typical in the first year of training. For each of the next few years, provided you are training efficiently and consistently, you can expect the rate of annual gain to be half.
So far, we’ve discussed factors affecting your muscle growth potential beyond your control. Let’s now zoom in on the things you can control:
Resistance training stresses the muscle fibers. The body responds by preparing to meet a similar stress in the future, making the muscle slightly bigger and stronger.
Training must be performed so that all of the muscle fibers that comprise the muscle are fully engaged for the muscle to develop completely. The human body has both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. To engage both types of muscle fiber, you must incorporate a variety of repetitions into your workout routine.
A smartly designed workout program for building lean muscle will utilize a rep scheme spanning high to low repetitions.
Here is a sample rep protocol over six sets:
- Set One: 30 reps
- Set Two: 20 reps
- Set Three: 15 rep
- Set Four: 10 reps
- Set Five: 8 reps
- Set Six: 6 reps
On this set-rep routine, the weight you lift throughout each set should be increased. The last 20% of reps should be done to failure.
You must do exercises that push you beyond your maximum poundage to force muscle growth. You should aim to increase the weights by small increments every week or two.
Work each muscle group twice weekly, with 48-72 hours of rest between sessions.
In terms of muscle gain, what you eat is actually more important than how you train. Of course, you need to work hard to build mass, but when you walk out of the gym, your muscles are actually weaker and smaller than when you walked in.
You must be on top of your nutrition to build bigger and stronger muscles.
Here are four nutrition rules to follow to build muscle:
- Create a daily caloric surplus: To do this, you first need to determine your Total Daily Energy expenditure (TDEE). This will tell you how many calories you must consume to maintain your body weight. Go here to work out your TDEE. Now add 500 calories to your TDEE.
- Consume more protein: The amino acids in proteins are the building blocks of muscle. Aim to take in 0.7-1.0 grams of protein for each pound of body weight (1.6-2.2 grams per kg). You should have a palm-sized serving of protein (typically 25-30 grams) with every meal.
- Have a protein/carb shake post-workout: After your workout, your muscles need both protein and carbohydrates. The protein will be used to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, while the carbohydrates will restore muscle glycogen levels. Look for a post-workout mix that provides 25-30 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of fast-digesting carbohydrates.
- Eat frequent, smaller meals: Aim to eat every three waking hours. These more frequent, smaller meals are easier to digest and provide a constant flow of muscle-building nutrients to your cells.
Resistance training places stress on your body. You will go through three stages of response to that stress. In the first stage, which occurs within two hours after the workout, your fatigue levels are very high due to depleted muscle glycogen levels, mental fatigue, lower levels of neural activation, and increased cortisol levels.
Stage two of recovery kicks in a couple of hours after the workout. Energy levels in the form of ATP and glycogen are replenished. The body also takes in more oxygen, boosting metabolism during this period.
Stage three is referred to as the adaptive phase, and it takes place between 36 and 72 hours after the workout. The body has now adapted to the stress of the workout, and you’re feeling re-energized, both physically and mentally.
You’re ready for the next training session. Certain things can be done to maximize your recovery, one of which is active recovery.
The most important thing you can do to promote recovery is to get a great night’s sleep. Sleeping is when most of your muscle recovery and regeneration takes place. It’s also when your testosterone and growth hormone release are at their peak.
Here are five tips to help you improve your sleep:
- Establish a set nighttime routine.
- Have a wind-down period in the hour before going to bed, where you engage in calming activities like reading a book or having a warm bath.
- Keep all technology, including your phone, out of the bedroom.
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible.
- Maintain a bedroom temperature of around 67 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).
Everyone’s rate of muscle gain is different due to a range of factors, some of which are beyond your control. However, a benchmark rate of muscle gain of 1-2 pounds per month during the first year of training is reasonable. Every year after that, you can expect your rate of gain to be half.
Regardless of our potential, we can all make muscle gains. Consistently apply the training, nutrition, and recovery guidelines provided, and you will get the rewards you deserve.
- Alway SE, Grumbt WH, Gonyea WJ, Stray-Gundersen J. Contrasts in muscle and myofibers of elite male and female bodybuilders. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1989 Jul;67(1):24-31. doi: 10.1152/jappl.19188.8.131.52. PMID: 2759948.
- Erskine, R. M., Williams, A. G., Jones, D. A., Stewart, C. E., & Degens, H. (2013). ACE and ACTN3 genotypes on muscle phenotypes before and after strength training. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(4), 642-648. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12055 PMID: 23384112
- Arounleut, P., Bialek, P., Liang, L.-F., Upadhyay, S., Fulzele, S., Johnson, M., Elsalanty, M., Isales, C. M., & Hamrick, M. W. (2013). A myostatin inhibitor (propeptide-Fc) increases muscle mass and muscle fiber size in aged mice but does not increase bone density or bone strength. Experimental Gerontology, 48(9), 898-904.
- Chung, H. C., et al. (2021) Do exercise-associated genes explain phenotypic variance in the three components of fitness? A Systematic review & Meta-analysis. PLOS One. doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.22.436402.
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January 29, 2024
Steve Theunissen, PT
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