Mass gain: how much muscle can you realistically expect?
‘Yeah but he’s on roids!’
In the UK, the use of steroids in the pursuit of muscle gain has reached endemic levels.
In years gone by, the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and anabolic steroids was limited to a small but dedicated circle of hardcore bodybuilders. Nowadays, it's commonplace in many gyms and in all walks of life.
This has created a climate whereby it's difficult to judge what's achievable naturally. We live in a time where we want everything and we want it instantly - people seemingly aren't content with waiting years to look like Anthony Joshua.
So what’s the shortcut to natural muscle gain?
JOE spoke to Lloyd Bridger, personal trainer and co-founder of LDN Muscle. Bridger's advice can help you monitor muscle gain and how to best achieve it.
"There are baseline standards, but there is always going to be variation. It’s like asking ‘how tall am I going to be?’ when you’re growing up.
"Statistically, we can say how tall you are likely to be, but it falls within a fairly large range, so there is chance it could be anywhere on the spectrum."
The rate of natural muscle gain can roughly be broken down into each year of proper training and nutrition:
- 1st year: 7-8kg muscle gain
- 2nd year: 3-4kg muscle gain
- 3rd year: 2-3kg muscle gain
- 4th+ year: 1-2kg muscle gain
Bridger says: "Your reaction when seeing this is probably ‘that’s not a lot of muscle you can gain naturally.’ And you would be right - building muscle naturally is a slow process because it requires a lot of extra energy (in the form of eating calories)."
Your genes are the deciding factor, for the most part. Bridger comments:
"Genetics (mainly bone structure) is the limiting factor in how much muscle you can gain. If you’ve got small wrists and ankles, you probably aren’t ever going to get ‘too big.’"
Whatever your genetics, you can still build an impressive amount of muscle mass.
What are the key points for attempting to build muscle?
Bridger has outlined some key steps to follow when looking to build some natural muscle mass:
- Make sure you are in a small (200-400kcal), constant calorie surplus
- Spread these calories between 3-5 meals & snacks each day
- At each meal aim to eat 0.4g per kg body weight of protein (that’s around 30g for an average man)
- Train 3-5 times a week, focusing on compound lifts and some isolation work
- Train each muscle group twice a week, as the stimulate muscle growth only lasts a maximum of 48 hours post workout
- 40-70 reps with a moderately heavy weight is shown to be the ‘sweet spot’ for eliciting the most muscle growth. More reps doesn’t mean more muscle growth
- Set realistic short and long term goals, based around performance in and out of the gym. Don’t base all your goals around how you look and the weight you gain
- Keep track of your overall progress by recording your measurements, progress photos and weight regularly
- Train in different rep ranges every week or month. Research has shown that even sets up up to around 30-40 reps strongly stimulate muscle growth, it’s not just 8-12 reps that build muscle!
By following this advice, you'll easily begin to gain a good level of muscle mass - without the need for any chemical 'assistance'.