I like to keep my life very simple and that goes for my diet and fitness. I want to make fitness part of my lifestyle, since it’s just a means to an end at the end of the day.
That’s why I love the simplicity and effectiveness of lean bulking. Before you learn how to lean bulk and count your calories and macros, however, first you need to understand what to expect as a natural trainee and how fast its even possible to gain muscle.
I’m willing to bet that half of the people reading this have been duped and lied to by the Fitness industry.
I remember a couple years ago, one of my friends claimed he was going to come back as the reincarnation of Arnold by the time summer ended, and truly believed it.
That’s just three months!
Needless to say he didn’t come back as the Terminator by the time September rolled around.
In this day and age, everyone wants that instant gratification. With all the magazines claiming that you can add 20lbs of muscle in 6 weeks and P90x advertisements guaranteeing that you’ll look like the next Captain America, it’s no wonder everyone has a false idea of how long it really takes to build quality lean muscle.
20lbs in 6 weeks?
Pfft. Forget about it.
Sorry kids, but maybe try a year or more for that. And that’s assuming your diet, training and sleep is on point.
On average, a natural male trainee doing everything correctly can gain about half a pound of muscle a week. A natural female would gain half a pound of muscle every two weeks.
So that’s around 2lbs of muscle gain in a month and potentially up to 24lbs in one year.
Again, this is assuming optimal diet, training, sleep and no sick/injury days. How realistic is that?
Oh and did I mention, this is only for the first year of training when your body is totally new to the stimulus of working out and “newbie gains” are at their peak? Every year after that will be slower and you’ll have to fight for every pound of muscle.
Here’s a chart based on the average male that you can refer to as guidance to give you a good idea. It’s about half of this for females:
All the advertisements you see on TV and in magazines claiming you can make those drastic gains are just a scam to sell you their useless supplements which probably come with nasty side effects to boot.
How Much Muscle Can You Gain Naturally in Total (Your Genetic Muscular Potential)?
Ready for some more bad news?
Not only can’t you gain muscle at the rate you though was possible, there is actually also a limit to how much muscle you can build in your whole entire lifting career.
I know it sucks but you will probably never look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or most of the fitness models that you so admire with bursting huge biceps, 3D capped shoulders and photo shopped looking abs without the use of drugs.
There are a few factors that definitely come into play, which will dictate how big you’ll get.
Factors That Determine How Big You Will Grow
It’s one of those things you either have or don’t.
I usually don’t like to talk about genetics because it usually ends up as an excuse for people to give sub optimal effort and blame the heavens and earth for their “horrible genetics”.
But the cold harsh truth is that your progress and “size limit” is dictated by your genetics to a large extent.
You’ve probably noticed there are people out there that seemingly respond really well to weight training or know someone that has well developed muscle mass who doesn’t even work out.
There really are superhuman mutants out there that gain 4 years worth of muscle gains in just a year. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman are prime examples. They were reported to have a dramatic increase in muscle mass with bulging veins after only a year of training and before even starting steroid use.
But keep in mind that these are the outliers; a rare breed of humans.
Most of us have about “average genetics” which means the chart above is the most accurate way of telling how fast we will grow. And as a natural male lifter you can expect to gain 30-50lb of muscle mass in your whole entire lifting career before reaching your genetic limit.
That is obviously quite a wide range and largely correlates with your height.
Hell, most people are lucky to even gain 40lbs of muscle let alone 50lbs in their entire lifting career no matter how hard they try, and that my friends is the power of genetics.
The good news is that you can obviously still build a phenomenal physique naturally and with probably less muscle that you might think. Where you build muscle on your body is just as important as overall muscle mass for developing an aesthetic physique.
2. Your Hormonal Profile
Next, and somewhat related, comes one of the most important factors in your journey for gaining mass.
Your hormone profile.
There’s a reason males gain muscle at a faster rate and also achieve much more mass in their lifting career than their female counterparts ever will.
On average, most healthy men are producing at least 10x more Testosterone than women. And we should all know by now Testosterone plays a huge role in the development of muscle tissue, gaining strength and losing fat.
Another hormone to take into account is Estrogen since higher Estrogen is correlated with higher body fat percentage and less muscle mass.
How much Testosterone you produce, whether it be average or on the high end of normal is to much extent dictated by another factor we already discussed…
Or to put another way, your “physiologically inherited state” which basically means any hormonal or other health factors that have been passed on to you by your parents.
See how it all comes together.
Now there are of course drugs you can use to increase your testosterone to super-physiological levels enabling you to gain muscle at a much faster rate. And not only that, but the right type of drugs will allow you to surpass your “genetic limit” and reach monster freak size if that is what you wish.
3. Protein and Overall Calorie Intake
This is simple math here guys.
Calorie intake is important. The motto that you gotta “Eat Big to get Big” still stands. It’s an irrefutable scientific fact that you have to eat more calories than you burn in a day to gain weight, thus that includes muscle mass.
This is also where having sufficient protein intake is important. It provides the very building blocks of muscle and is what repairs the tissues following a workout.
Of course stuffing your face with any food in sight is a one way ticket to Fat city, but having an optimal diet with enough calories and optimal proportions of macros is an important factor in determining how much muscle you will gain.
4. Your Workout/Training
Let’s imagine for a second that you have mutant like genetics with an above average hormone profile. You are also getting adequate protein with an optimal caloric intake.
All of your advantages and effort would be wasted and the extra calories just stored as fat if you aren’t actually going to the gym and putting in the work.
Working out is the stimulus for growth. The mass gaining equation would fail without this in the formula.
But it also goes without saying that a proper training regimen must be set in place. Just going to the gym “to catch a sweat” won’t cut it.
A properly executed, progressive routine that causes you to gain strength on all your main lifts while also inducing muscular hypertrophy is a must if you are serious about your muscle building conquest.
An adequate amount of good sleep every night is mandatory. A lot of the most vital functions such as the production of testosterone and a whole host of other hormones usually happens during deep REM sleep.
Rest allows for recovery and allows your body to build back the muscle cells you destroyed in the gym.
6. Body Fat Levels
Humans are able to gain more muscle mass when we start off from a leaner base.
That basically means you should be at a low body fat before attempting to bulk.
It’s simple. As your body fat rises insulin sensitivity drops, your ability to drop fat decreases, protein synthesis is suppressed, Testosterone drops and Estrogen increases. Being obese or at a higher body fat percentage causes inflammation which lowers your body’s anabolic response.
So trying to bulk up while you are already fat will just mean that the majority of weight you gain will be additional fat mass. Yikes!
Now imagine trying to get rid of all that fat when it’s time to cut. Not only will it be a painfully long, gruelling process, you might even lose most if not all of the little muscle you earned, and you’re back to square one.
Save yourself the trouble by first cutting down to about 8-12% body fat for males and 15-20% body fat for females before starting a bulking cycle.
As you can see, this post might have served as a sort of “reality check” for some of you.
The magazines and fitness commercials were just hyping up the results so that you buy their supplements and/or ridiculously priced training programs.
You can expect to gain around half a pound of muscle a week as a male novice bodybuilder (half a pound every two weeks as a natural female lifter) and a total of around 30-50lbs total muscle ever, over your lifting career.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you but it’s still a whole lot of muscle you can add to your frame and more than enough to build a phenomenal physique if you build it in the right places and pay attention to proportion.
It’s not a bad situation, just don’t believe the hype and have realistic expectations.