The world of muscle gain is strangely similar to weight loss. All too often, supplements or diets claim to give you fast, magical results. They’ll have you wishing for 3, 5, or even 10 pounds of muscle in a short period of time. But what is the most you can gain?
We all have different factors to consider. Yet, there’s certainly a safe, proper limit to how much muscle you can gain per week.
Factors That Determine Muscle Gain
1. Satellite Cells
Genetics determine so much about us. Height, eye color, disease risk – you name it, genes are probably behind it. Even muscles aren’t let off the hook. Enter satellite cells, the stem cells in your muscles. They have extra nuclei so they’re more powerful than others. And according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, having more satellite cells is linked to greater muscle growth.
They’re also related by genes. So if you start out with a lot, making gains will be that much easier.1
2. Muscle Fibers
The distribution of skeletal muscle fibers matter. That’s right, there’s more than one kind. Type I slow-twitch muscle fibers are used for low-intensity, long duration exercise. Fast-twitch type II fibers are used for strength and power. Both are important, but having less type I is associated with obesity and weight gain, especially in the abdomen.
Every person has different proportions of muscle fibers. It’s also decided by – you guessed it – genetics.2
3. VO2 Max
VO2 max is the maximum capacity of oxygen consumption during maximal exercise. Basically, it points to your physical fitness. The higher VO2 max you have, the harder you can work out.
But unlike satellite cells and muscle fiber, VO2 max isn’t controlled by genetics. You can boost it by increasing aerobic exercise, which can raise it by about 50 percent.3
The Bottom Line
Safe weight loss counts as 1 to 2 pounds per week. As 1 pound equals 3500 calories, daily intake needs to be reduced by 500 to 1000 calories.4 For weight gain of any type, it’s the same concept, but opposite. This means the most muscle you can safely gain is 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Muscle growth takes time. After several weeks (or even months) of progressively lifting more, muscle will respond and adapt.5 Furthermore, protein turnover in collagen happens every 1000 days.6
Not All Weight Gain Is Equal
As you build muscle, the scale will slowly creep up or even stay the same. However, the scale can’t differentiate between muscle and fat – so don’t feel discouraged.
Muscle has a higher density than fat. In other words, between equal masses of muscle and fat, the muscle would take up less volume.7 It proves that body fat percentage makes a huge difference.
Eat For Muscle Growth
After pumping iron, all that hard work won’t matter if you don’t eat well. To gain 1 to 2 pounds a week, eat an extra 500 calories a day. Strength training will make sure that pound shows up as muscle and not fat.8
But the type of calories matter. For weight gain in the form of muscle, focus on these nutrients.
Exercise damages muscle and body protein. To support recovery, eat lean protein to help the skeletal muscle repair. It’s the best way to encourage muscle mass growth, strength, and muscle protein synthesis.9
Instead of fatty protein like burgers, opt for lean sources such as skinless turkey, chicken, beans, and eggs.
As the body’s first source of energy, it’s no surprise that carbs are a must. Additionally, the combination of carbs and protein actually enhances muscle recovery, according to a 2010 study. Muscle damage also drops by 27 percent, while muscle performance improves the next day.10
Remember, not all carbs are bad! Reach for whole grains like brown rice and quinoa.
High levels of physical activity also bring on oxidative levels. If it builds up, cell membranes may become damaged.11 This is an excellent reason to add antioxidant-rich foods to your recovery meal, like leafy greens and berries.12
Eventually, the focus will have to shift to muscle maintenance, not gain. Aging will deteriorate muscle! So instead of trying to look like a celebrity bodybuilder, focus on overall health. A nutritionist and personal trainer can help you do this properly.
|↑1||Petrella, John K., Jeong-su Kim, David L. Mayhew, James M. Cross, and Marcas M. Bamman. “Potent myofiber hypertrophy during resistance training in humans is associated with satellite cell-mediated myonuclear addition: a cluster analysis.” Journal of applied physiology 104, no. 6 (2008): 1736-1742.|
|↑2||Karjalainen, Jouko, Heikki Tikkanen, Miika Hernelahti, and Urho M. Kujala. “Muscle fiber-type distribution predicts weight gain and unfavorable left ventricular geometry: a 19 year follow-up study.” BMC cardiovascular disorders 6, no. 1 (2006): 2.|
|↑3||Shete, Anjali N., Smita S. Bute, and P. R. Deshmukh. “A Study of VO2 Max and Body Fat Percentage in Female Athletes.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR 8, no. 12 (2014): BC01.|
|↑4||Losing Weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑5||McDonagh, Martin JN, and C. T. M. Davies. “Adaptive response of mammalian skeletal muscle to exercise with high loads.” European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology 52, no. 2 (1984): 139-155.|
|↑6||Ha, Chung-Eun, and N. V. Bhagavan. Essentials of medical biochemistry: with clinical cases. Academic Press, 2011.|
|↑7||Deurenberg-Yap, Mabel, Gordon Schmidt, Wija A. van Staveren, and Paul Deurenberg. “The paradox of low body mass index and high body fat percentage among Chinese, Malays and Indians in Singapore.” International journal of obesity 24, no. 8 (2000): 1011.|
|↑8||Eating Strategies to Gain Weight. University of Colorado Colorado Springs.|
|↑9||Moore, Daniel R., Donny M. Camera, Jose L. Areta, and John A. Hawley. “Beyond muscle hypertrophy: why dietary protein is important for endurance athletes.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 39, no. 9 (2014): 987-997.|
|↑10||Stearns, Rebecca L., Holly Emmanuel, Jeff S. Volek, and Douglas J. Casa. “Effects of ingesting protein in combination with carbohydrate during exercise on endurance performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24, no. 8 (2010): 2192-2202.|
|↑11||Selsby, Joshua T., and Stephen L. Dodd. “Heat treatment reduces oxidative stress and protects muscle mass during immobilization.” American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 289, no. 1 (2005): R134-R139.|
|↑12||Carlsen, Monica H., Bente L. Halvorsen, Kari Holte, Siv K. Bøhn, Steinar Dragland, Laura Sampson, Carol Willey et al. “The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.” Nutrition journal 9, no. 1 (2010): 3.|