So, you’re a beginner looking to start packing on the muscle, hey?
That’s an exciting part of the journey. Congrats on taking the first step!
For anyone with any experience in the field, you know about the so-called “newbie gains” all to well…If you’re one of those beginners, you’re likely in for a solid first month of transformation and development if you stay consistent and committed.
The amount of muscle you can gain in a month highly depends on where you are in your muscle gaining journey, among other factors. If you’re a beginner, it can be quite easy to gain the first few pounds of noticeable muscle; If you’re 6 months in, the task gets more difficult; If you’ve been workout out for years, it’s likely you haven’t seen incremental gains in what seems like an eternity!
The time it takes to build muscle varies from person to person and involves a number of factors as described above.
In this article, though we’ll touch on it from all angles, we’re going to be exploring this question largely from the vantage point of a complete beginner.
Let’s jump right into it!
Maximizing Muscle Growth
Again, building muscle and experiencing results tends to come on fast for beginners that are consistent. They typically have little to worry about with regards to their diet during this phase (though it would help), because no matter what they do, it seems as though results keep popping up!
However, if you are experiencing these newbie gains, rest assured that they’re short lived…Instead of relying upon these initial short-term benefits and telling yourself you’ve got it all figured out, a better question to ask is “What can I do today to maximize my muscle growth, both in the short-term AND long-term?”.
Factors that affect muscle growth:
- Duration of workouts
- Frequency of workouts
- Effectiveness and intensity of workouts
- Age, weight, and height
- Sex and hormones
- Diet (i.e. caloric intake, macronutrient intake)
- Experience and ability
Maximizing muscle growth not only requires commitment, discipline, and consistency. It also requires an optimal training program in conjunction with an optimal, macro-friendly diet plan.
Sure, it also involves body-type, genetics, and other uncontrollable factors. However, we’re not going to be paying attention to these factors for the very reason that they’re uncontrollable.
Let’s focus on what we can control, instead!
According to the American Council on Exercise, there isn’t a proven, optimal, one-size-fits-all training plan for developing muscle. With that said, there are strong recommendations.
“Current research suggests that maximum gains in muscle hypertrophy are achieved by training regimens that produce significant metabolic stress while maintaining a moderate degree of muscle tension”.
These recommendations for maximal hypertrophy are as follows:
- 3-6 sets (including warm-up sets) per exercise
- 6-12 reps per set depending upon working load
- 60-90 seconds of rest in between each set
- Generally working with a load of 70-80% of your 1 rep max.
This can then be repeated and emulated throughout your training cycle. Don’t be shy to stray from the plan a little bit and include some variation into your training regimen. This won’t only keep it interesting, it will also simply create mini-challenges within the big picture of the training cycle itself.
Begin implementing these training strategies by working out 2-4 times per week for 30-45 minutes. Through progressive overload, slow increase and make more difficult the factors listed above.
For example, gradually increase the duration of your workout. Add an additional set at the end of each exercise. Tack on some additional weight if you can safely handle it. Over time, not only will you see your strength increase, but you will begin to notice true, high-quality muscle gains in the process.
Lastly, don’t be a stranger to adjustments and adaptation throughout the duration of your muscle gaining journey. No one plan is perfect and unexpected events will pop-up along the way. By being adaptable, you give yourself the advantage continued, maximal muscle gains.
How Often Should I Workout?
Continuing with the theme of maximizing muscle gains, lets now dive into the duration and frequency of your workouts and what might be an optimal solution for you!
Referring to the most recent literature on the matter, research suggests that a minimum of two days per week, whilst aiming for three to four, is necessary for maximizing muscle growth.
With that said, it’s really dependent upon the individual. If you can make 5 days work, that’s great! If you’re just beginning and you find 2 days doable, go full throttle with that! The most important thing to consider when you’re first starting out with strength training is: Stay safe, be consistent, and give it 100%.
Regarding the duration of each workout: again, it depends and it varies. Averaging 30-45 minutes of exercise per workout would be a solicit fantastic results.
Macros for Building Muscle
Macronutrients are comprised of 3 nutrients that are vital for muscle growth & health:
- Carbohydrates (4 kcal/gram)
- Protein (4 kcal/gram)
- Fat (9 kcal/gram
Counting macros is a common method for cutting fat, gaining muscle and essentially manipulating your physique in any way. It involves knowing your maintenance calories, and adjusting your caloric intake based off of your goals. Once you’ve identified the ideal macronutrient ratio split, you can begin measuring and weighing your food accordingly.
A common muscle gaining macro ratio and a good place to start is:
- 40% Protein
- 20-30% Fat
- 30-40% Carb
Again, begin with a baseline as outlined above, however, be adaptable and find what works best for you. There is no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to counting macros and there are so many factors that are involved with gaining muscle outside of just counting your macros:
- Sex/gender & hormones
- Fitness goals
- Experience level
- Body-type (Ectomorph, Endomorph, Mesomorph)
- Health status (allergies, limitations, disorders & diseases, etc.)
With that said, any macro split tends to include a similar portion of protein. When building muscle, protein is essential for it is the building blocks of life (i.e. growth & development).
As mentioned in a randomized controlled trial study, “A dietary protein intake higher than the Recommended Dietary Allowance during an energy deficit helps to preserve lean body mass (LBM), particularly when combined with exercise.”
Which brings us to the last, but certainly not least, important topic AND probably one of the most inquired about questions in the fitness realm…
Can You Build Muscle & Lose Fat?
In the research referenced above, it is stated that if you are in a caloric deficit (i.e. cutting weight/fat), by simply increasing your protein intake and incorporating a consistent resistance training regimen, you can enter a state in which you are building lean body mass whilst simultaneously losing fat.
Well…while this is true, it isn’t always quite that easy and it certainly doesn’t hold true universally. Additionally, it is argued that it may be just as effective and maybe more efficient to simply enter into a bulking phase to build muscle, followed by a cutting phase to shed the fat.
By isolating the two goals, it is argued you reap more successful results…
Let’s dig into WHY, shall we?
When considering muscle gain, it is universally understood that you need to fuel the muscles properly with the correct amount of sufficient nutrients. By putting yourself in a caloric surplus (i.e. bulking phase), you guarantee that this will be the case.
Conversely, in order to lose fat, you need to put yourself in a caloric deficit…
It’s not so cut-and-dry, however, when you begin to implement a fat-loss regimen in tandem with a muscle building phase…Sure, it’s been shown that increasing protein can solve for the missing link, however, it may not be your best option.
BUT, and this is a big ‘but’, as mentioned in the introduction of this article, we’re focusing on exploring this question largely from the vantage point of a complete beginner. And the news couldn’t be better if you’re a beginner reading this right now
See, there are always exceptions. Being a complete beginner to weight-training is one of them. So, here comes the BUT:
Beginners often have the unexplainable ability, without even trying might I add, to build muscle and lose fat in their initial phases of their journey.
So for the sake of simplicity, without going further down the rabbit hole of science regarding muscle gain and fat lass, the answer to the question: can you lose fat and build muscle at the same time? Is – yes.
In summary, the answer that is always given when asked a highly specific question like: How much muscle can I gain in a month? – Well, it depends…I’m sure you have seen this common theme if you’ve read any of my other articles!
But this isn’t always such a bad thing. It’s important to learn what’s behind the curtains of what entails “it depends”. Through informing ourselves and understanding what factors may or may not effect us, we’re able to make better decisions to more easily reach our goals.
As always, if you focus on making better lifestyle choices rather than focusing on short-sighted goals like seeing how much weight you can lose in one month, you’ll be much better off in the long run.
Stay healthy and stay happy.