[This article was first published in 2018]
It can be tempting to step on the scale following a week of intense workouts at the gym to check whether you’ve gained any muscle - but chances are, you haven’t.
In reality, building muscle doesn’t happen overnight - and it requires significant work and commitment to see results.
Noticeable, substantial muscle gain is more likely to take years rather than months and the amount of muscle weight gain possible in a month is actually quite small.
Any drastic weight fluctuations over the course of a month are typically the result of fluid loss or retention - and not new, bulging muscles.
How many pounds can you build in a month?
The amount of muscle any one person can gain in a month varies, according to SPEAR physical therapist Marc Jacobchick, DPT.
“The maximum amount of muscle you can gain in one month differs not only between men and women, but also between each individual,” Jacobchick told The Independent. “Variables such as training intensity, volume, frequency, genetic makeup, diet, rest, and hormonal levels each have a specific effect on muscle gain.”
However, even if your diet is perfect and you maintain a flawless workout regime, do not expect to see a significant weight difference in just a month's time.
“With all of those things considered, the average man can gain about one to two pounds of muscle per month and the average woman up to one pound per month,” Jacobchick told us.
Exercises that build muscle quicker
Although certain exercises do not make it possible to build more than, at most, a couple pounds of muscle at a time, there are some that will help you build muscle faster in the long run.
Jacobchick told us: “Heavy resistance exercises have been shown to build muscle quicker than light resistance exercises and cardio” - the foundation of the overload principle.
For muscles to change, and grow, the “stimulus (exercise) must be great enough to cause small tears in the muscle that, with rest and proper nutrition, will grow back bigger and stronger than before,” he said.
Essentially, to build muscle, you must use your muscles.
Workouts that involve lifting weights are suitable - and recommended - for muscle gain, whereas cardio-based exercise will result in minimal results.
“Based on the overload principle, the stimulus of cardiovascular exercise is usually insufficient to cause significant muscle gain,” Jacobchick told us. “Think about it: your muscles don’t need to get bigger and stronger to gain endurance, they need to be bigger and stronger to lift heavier weights.”
Benji Tiger, a personal trainer at OrangeTheory, agreed.
“To gain muscle, you should be doing weight training and minimal cardio,” Tiger told The Independent. “Just doing cardio helps to lose excess body fat, but doing too much can actually result in your body burning through muscle.”
How diet affects your ability to gain muscle
Another thing to consider when working towards muscle gain is your eating habits.
If the number on the scale is rising steadily and frequently, the weight gained may be the result of fat gain and not muscle, if liquid retention isn't the case.
While you can still gain muscle even if you are eating poorly, a diet of mostly saturated or fatty foods will hinder muscle growth rather than support it.
According to Jacobchick, the “quality, quantity, and timing of your diet have a direct impact on your ability to gain muscle.”
For those serious about gaining muscle, the best foods to eat are natural and high in protein.
Timing is important as it is integral to refuel your muscles after straining them.
For the best results, Jacobchick recommends eating within 30 minutes to an hour of working out - as it’s the “optimal time for your muscles to take in the protein that you ingest and begin the rebuilding process.”
Building muscles may be a slow process, but the dedication to maintaining a healthy lifestyle will show over time.