Many people new to working out set a weight gain goal. Whether the weight gain progression goal is for the next month or the next year, it makes sense to base the number off how much muscle you can realistically gain in that time period, because most people are trying to build muscle rather than fat.
In this article we’ll review the science behind muscle building and explain how much muscle you can reasonably gain weekly, and how that translates to a healthy weight gain progression for those working out.
What The Science Says
Most of the articles online detailing muscle building limits just give general recommendations without any evidence, which is useless.
If you’re starting a weight gaining and exercise program, you want to make sure your goals are within reasonable limits so you don’t end up gaining unnecessary fat.
There is a difference between how much muscle men can expect to gain and how much women can, because of the differences in biology.
One of the few medical studies on the topic of muscle gain and caloric intake found that a 350 to 480 daily increase in calories is ideal for people seeking to optimize muscle gain. The study authors recommended that individuals (or their trainers) use that as a base and then adjust the caloric intake based on individual response.
Another study found that experienced lifters (men and women) gained around 2.25 lb of muscle on average over an 8 week period. Their caloric intakes weren’t recorded unfortunately.
The most thorough study we’ve ever seen on caloric surplus and weight gain, broken down by fat and muscle gain, suggests that a caloric increase of around 400 calories daily can translate into a 4 to 5 lb muscle gain with no fat gain over an 8 week period.
What Does This Mean for Weekly Muscle Gain?
Based on the above studies, we can assume that a 400 calorie increase, combined with resistance training, should result in a weight gain progression of about 0.6 lb of muscle per week. We’re favoring the studies which actually measured caloric intake over the ones which only measured muscle gain, because it’s a set of more complete information.
It’s worth noting that individual responses to overfeeding (eating at a caloric surplus) vary drastically, and these numbers are just based on averages from several medical studies.
People seeking to gain muscle may want to shoot for a minimum 20g post workout protein dosage. As we discussed in our Premier Protein nutrition article, this is the dosage medically proven to optimize muscle recovery.
Why These Weight Gain Numbers May Seem Low
There’s a term in the bodybuilding community called “noob gains” which refers to how much muscle inexperienced weightlifters can put on when they first start training. Many of these reports online talk about gaining 20 pounds of muscle or more within a few weeks.
Generally, people self-reporting their muscle gains aren’t considering that much of the “gains” are actually increased water weight and fat gain. It’s biologically almost impossible to gain 20 pounds of lean muscle tissue for a natural athlete over the span of a few weeks or even months.
Many bulking diets include a large amount of carbohydrates which increases water retention. This alone can make muscles appear bigger and more “full.”
Actual lean tissue gains, which the medical studies report on, are generally more modest. However, keeping the caloric surplus to a reasonable 400 cal/day above maintenance will probably lead to better performance outcomes than eating a larger caloric surplus and adding fat just to reach a weight gain goal sooner.