How Fast Should You Gain Mass?

Tom MacCormick

Strength and Conditioning, Personal Training, Sports Science

How Fast Should You Gain Mass?

 

How quickly should you gain weight during a bulk? As a newbie, you can pack on muscle at a good rate. However, once you’ve discarded your weight room training wheels and graduated to intermediate or advanced status, muscle gain becomes a slow process. Visual changes in muscle mass take months, not days or even weeks. This makes tracking progress difficult.

 

 

Tracking muscle gain is more complicated than tracking fat loss. With fat loss, you can often see the changes from week to week. Also, if the scale is moving in the right direction, you are training hard, and eating sufficient protein, the chance of muscle loss is minimal. Thus, you can be extremely confident that the weight being lost is almost exclusively fat.

 

Weight gain is different. During a mass gain phase, you will gain some fat. The key is to keep the ratio of fat to muscle under control. With an abundance of calories, the body is extremely efficient at storing fat. Because of this, there is a genuine chance you will gain excess fat quickly. To reduce this risk, it is sensible to calculate reasonable rates of weight gain to help guide your bulking efforts.

 

How Fast Should You Gain Mass? - Fitness, bodybuilding, body composition, hypertrophy, scales, gaining weight, mass gain

 

Reasonable Rates of Gain

Before identifying an appropriate rate of muscle gain, it is worth considering how much you can reasonably expect to gain across your lifting career. This information allows for predicted rates of gain, and therefore can act as a guide to help prevent you gaining weight too fast through excess fat gain.

 

A natural trainee can, on average, expect to gain in the region of 50lb of muscle across their lifting career. This will take a minimum of five years for almost everyone to achieve. In most cases, much longer.

 

We all know newbie gains are a real thing, so it should come as no surprise that a good portion of these 50lb will come early in your lifting career. For example, gaining 20-25lb in year one is a very real possibility. After this, the rate of gain diminishes each year. Packing muscle on advanced lifter is much harder than on a relative novice.

 

I have seen various estimations and equations to predict your muscular potential and rate of gain. These all tend to provide pretty similar results, and the following guidelines settle right around the same point. A guy with average genetics can gain 40-50lb at a rate of:

 

  • Novice (years 1 & 2 of proper training): 1-1.5% of bodyweight per month
  • Intermediate (years 3 & 4 of proper training) – 0.5-1% of bodyweight per month
  • Advanced (5+ years of proper training) – 0.25-0.5% of bodyweight per month

 

Why You Should Move Beyond the Scale

Once you are past the novice stage, relying on scale weight alone as an indicator isn’t all that useful. The daily increases are so minimal, they are within your scale’s margin of error. For example, a 180lb intermediate should be aiming to gain 0.9-1.8lb per month. That’s 0.03-0.06lb per day. Chances are, your scale is not that accurate. Even if it is, your weight likely fluctuates by at least 0.5-1lb a day, because of things like hydration status, bowel content, glycogen stores, and the time of day you take the measurement. So day to day, it is possible you’ve gained some muscle, but your weight drops, or vice versa.

 

 

Taking weekly averages is one way to navigate this problem. This provides you with a trend line to track progress, and is a superior way to use the data your scale provides. However, based on a four-week month, our 180lb intermediate lifter still should only expect to gain 0.225-0.45lb per week. That is within your scale’s level of accuracy, but is about half of what your daily weight fluctuations might be. As such, relying solely on the scale is nice in theory, but suboptimal in practice.

 

For that reason, I suggest you utilize the following metrics of muscle gain to assist you in gauging the quality of your weight gain:

 

  • Relative strength
  • Strength in the hypertrophy rep range
  • Total training volume
  • Progress pictures
  • Tape measurements
  • Callipers
  • Clothes being tighter around chest, thighs, and arms, but not your waist

 

More Aggressive Gains Are Easier to Track

I also suggest you gain weight quicker than the numbers presented above, especially if you are at the intermediate to advanced level. Why? In a word, practicality.

 

Past the beginner stage, for you to build any noticeable amount of muscle, your scale weight will have to increase. If it hasn’t, you can be certain that little to no muscle has been built. As I pointed out earlier, the possible rates of daily muscle gain fall outside of your scale’s margin for error. Even the proposed weekly and monthly figures are hard to track. If you happened to have slightly more carbohydrates or sodium in your diet, that can affect your weight and create the incorrect illusion of muscle gain success or failure. This makes the practicality of adhering to the rates of gain listed above problematic.

 

Trying to gain at these slow rates creates the very real possibility of you wasting several months without actually building much, if any muscle. Muscle building is hard and painfully slow at the best of times. Mis-measuring your progress because of any of the variables I described above can be heart breaking. So instead, I suggest you are a little more assertive with your rate of gain.

 

At the intermediate stage, you are doing well if the weight you gain on the scale is a 50:50 ratio of muscle to fat. In some highly advanced athletes, it’ll be more like 25:75 for growth to occur. Using the 50:50 ratio, we can calculate some rates of gain that are slightly easier to track.

 

As a consequence of the fact that we must accept some fat gain during a mass gain phase, I suggest you adjust your monthly weight gain targets up somewhat. By doing so, you can be confident you gained weight as fast as possible. Sure, some fat might have been accumulated along the way, but fat is relatively easy to lose. Muscle gains, however, are hard-fought. It is my contention you would see better results by taking a slightly more aggressive rate of gain interspersed with mini-cuts to shed the unwanted fat, than you would going at an incredibly slow, steady, and practically impossible to track rate. The former maximizes growth, with the risk of some fat gain. The latter risks spinning your wheels with no gains at all over several months.

 

Based on the points listed above, I believe that the following rates of gain are more useful:

 

  • Novice (years 1 & 2 of proper training) – 2% of bodyweight per month
  • Intermediate (years 3 & 4 of proper training) – 1.5% of bodyweight per month
  • Advanced (5+ years of proper training) – 1% of bodyweight per month

 

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