How long does it take to build muscle is a question that does not have a straightforward and simple answer. Let’s start with some background information on muscle.
How do muscles grow?
There needs to be a reason for your muscles to get bigger otherwise they just won’t grow. A quite obvious reason for your muscles to grow is for them to get stronger. But for muscles to get stronger, they need to be subjected to physical levels of stress. The muscles adjust to new levels of stress by getting stronger. Once your muscles start to get stronger, they will eventually adapt to these new strength levels by getting bigger.
The higher the intensity levels, the more stress you place on your muscles. So, as you gradually add more intensity to your resistance training program, you add more stress to your muscles and they will continue to grow.
Building muscle doesn’t start after doing just a few sets of bench presses at the gym. This is a gradual process that takes time and commitment. Having said that, just a single strength training session will help in promoting muscle growth, even though results will not immediately be apparent. Once your muscles start to get stronger, you should start seeing some growth in about 2 weeks to a month after the initial strength increase. This is of course not exact and everyone is different, so for some it can be more and some less, and can depend on various factors.
These 5 factors can affect how long it takes to build muscle:
1. Hormones and muscle growth
How much testosterone as well as other hormones that influence the building of muscle in the body varies. Men also naturally build muscle more efficiently than women because they have larger reserves of testosterone with a greater capability of producing growth hormone. The female body responds just as quickly to exercise, but not with the same intensity as the male body. A study has also shown that women have shorter muscle fibers, accounting for a reduction in strength, and differences in strength could also be a result of lean tissue distribution.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
PMID: 8477683 So women generally build muscle about 2-3 times slower in comparison to men.
2. Years of training and muscle growth
How long have you been strength training? You will initially gain muscle faster if you’re a beginner compared to someone who’s been working out for years.
3. Genetics and muscle growth
The composition of muscle fiber types will vary according to genetics. Our bodies produce 2 skeletal muscle fiber types – slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. Some of us are genetically predisposed to have more fast-twitch type muscle fibers, and some of us have more slow-twitch type muscle fibers.
The fast-twitch muscle fibers are physically larger to start with, and contract a lot faster and with more force in comparison to the slow-twitch muscle fibers. The fast-twitch muscle fibers also have greater growth potential in comparison to slow-twitch muscle fibers and anyone with a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers will have greater muscle growth potential. Muscles cannot be converted from one type to another and strength training will not convert slow-twitch muscle fibers to fast.
4. Supplements and muscle growth
Besides the performance enhancing and harmful substances that can help boost muscle growth, there are other safe supplements for muscle growth. Research shows that a blend of whey, soy and casein gives a prolonged supply of amino acids to the muscles, which makes it ideal for consumption post workout. The protein blend used in this research was comprised of 25% isolated whey protein, 25% isolated soy protein and 50% casein.2✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
Whey, soy and casein proteins are assimilated at different rates in the course of digestion. Whey is known as a “fast” protein since it is quickly absorbed while casein, known as a “slow” protein, will take several hours to be digested. The capability of soy protein to provide amino acids is “intermediate,” which means levels in blood peak relatively later in comparison to whey protein, but its rate of digestion is much faster than casein. That’s why the effect of all 3 of these proteins blended seems to deliver the prolonged release of amino acid distribution to the muscles. The muscles do not recover in thirty minutes. It will take around 24 to 48 hours for the muscles to recover following resistance exercise. This research demonstrated that a protein blend provides amino acid delivery for as much as 5 hours, which means if a product or protein shake using these blends is consumed, the extended effect will provide essential amino acids for the muscles until the next meal.
5. Muscle memory
Any muscle building activities that we participate in at any age will influence muscle growth rate later on in our lives.
Muscle cells are multinuclear cells, which means they contain many nuclei as opposed to only one nucleus. New nuclei are formed whenever muscles are subjected to overload from any muscle building activity. There is scientific evidence that these new nuclei are never lost, which means that permanent physiological changes have taken place in the muscle fibers.3✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
PMID: 184409904✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
So muscles will grow faster in individuals resuming muscle building activity in comparison to those who have never performed any muscle building activity in the past. This is because the nuclei are already there and don’t need to be added, and this is the physiology of “muscle memory.”
The following two charts can help determine how long it takes to build muscle
The McDonald Model
Fitness writer and bodybuilder nutrition coach Lyle McDonald developed the following equation for how long it takes to build muscle. The values in the chart apply to males, and it’s recommended that females halve these values.
|Years of Consistent Training||Potential Rate of Muscle Growth/Year|
|1||20-25 pounds (2 pounds/month)|
|2||10-12 pounds (1 pound/month)|
|3||5-6 pounds (0.5 pound/month)|
The Alan Aragon Model
Exercise physiologist Alan Aragon developed the following equation:
|Training Level||Rate of Muscle Gain|
|Beginner||1-1.5% total body weight/month|
|Intermediate||0.5-1% total body weight/month|
|Advanced||0.25-0.5% total body weight/month|