When you're trying to build solid, lean muscle, it can often become frustrating if you don't see results. Understanding how long it takes to build muscle will set your expectations for the amount of muscle you are trying to gain.
Throughout this article, I’ll share some information with you that will allow you to answer the question, depending on your particular circumstances.
We’ll look at what things have an impact on how much muscle you can build and what you can do to make sure you’re optimizing each of them.
The below table will give you a chance of answering ‘how long does it take to build muscle?', depending on how long you have been training for, or what your “Training age” is.
The McDonald Model:
The Alan Aragon Model:
Before we dive into the meat of this article, and answer ‘How long does it take to build muscle?', I’d like to let you know who we are:
Now you know who we are, let’s dive in and get to answering, ‘How long does it take to build muscle?'
What to expect in your first month
If you’re just starting out with muscle building training, you’ll experience some things that you may not have experienced before.
Some bad, some good.
When you get started, if you’re using the right weights, you’ll definitely get Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
DOMS is caused by the micro-tears that weight training causes within your muscles.
It’s nothing to worry about and is completely normal. It will improve quickly, usually within the first week or two.
What should I track, and how?
The best way to see increased muscle size is to take a ‘Before’ picture and your measurements.
As you see yourself every day, you might not notice small increases, but a photo 1 month later will prove the difference.
To track your increase in strength, you should keep a workout journal and make sure it’s updated through each workout with the weight used and the number of reps completed.
You could also start to notice a loss of body-fat that will lead to a better definition.
This is also best tracked by looking at your ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, side-by-side.
More noticeable muscle will be due to a mixture of muscle gain and fat loss.
What else will happen in my first month?
Your first month of resistance training for muscle gain will be a learning phase.
It’s where you’ll learn proper exercise form (which you can learn from Fit Father Project YouTube channel tutorials), which is important to avoid injury.
You’ll also need to learn what weight you can handle, to start off with.
Doing this will allow you to know what weights to use at various rep ranges, as your training progresses.
One of the best things about your first month is that if you’re eating right and training properly, you can expect to see some significant jumps in both muscle size and strength.
Most importantly though, you need to make sure you’re patient if things do not happen immediately.
Stay consistent in every area we’ll discuss below and your gains will increase.
Get Your Diet Plan Dialed In, For Optimum Success.
When it comes to how your diet plan should look for building muscle, there are a few considerations to make.
How much should I eat?
One of the first things I see when helping guys that appear to struggle to add muscle is that they’re not eating anywhere near enough calories.
In order to get bigger muscles, you must be getting enough calories every day to help with growth.
Depending on your current weight, you should aim for around 250-500 calories over your maintenance calories (number of calories you naturally burn each day).
To find out what your maintenance level of calories is, you can use our calorie calculator.
I go more in depth into this, in my article ‘How many calories should I eat to gain muscle'.
What should I eat?
Next, you should consider how your macronutrients (Protein, Carbs and Fat) should be split throughout the day.
My recommendation is to aim for 40% Carbs, 35% Protein, and 25% Fat.
This ratio should be split across 5 ‘meals’, being Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and 2 snacks.
Your 2 snacks could be a protein shake and a meal replacement bar (such as Quest bars).
The other meals would be a good mix of quality foods, like:
Carbs: Sweet Potato, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Wholemeal Pasta
Protein: Chicken, Sardines, Lean Beef, Egg Whites
Fats: Avocado, MCT Oil, Coconut Oil, Egg yolks
Vegetables: Broccoli, Spinach, Kale, Rocket, Asparagus
When should I eat?
Another consideration would be your pre-and-post workout nutrition.
If you’re training in the morning, I would recommend it should be around 1½ – 2 hours after breakfast.
You should then have a post-workout protein shake immediately after your workout and follow that up with a good lunch about 1-2 hours later. Your schedule would then look like this:
- 7am – Breakfast
- 9am – Workout
- 10am – Post workout shake (Snack 1)
- 12pm – Lunch
- 3pm – Snack 2
- 6pm – Dinner
If you’re training in the evening, you could push breakfast back a bit and have your Dinner and a Casein Protein shake (Casein is a great protein for before bed) a little later, like below:
- 9am – Breakfast
- 12pm – Lunch
- 3pm – Snack 1
- 5pm – Workout
- 6pm – Dinner
- 9pm – Casein protein shake (Snack 2)
What about drinking water?
Lastly, you should consider hydration as an absolute necessity for muscle building as your muscles are made up of 70-80% water and every cell in your body relies on water to function properly.
You should be aiming to take in at least 2.5 – 3 liters of water every day, with between 16 – 32 ounces of that being within 30 minutes of waking up.
Drinking water within 30 minutes of waking will hydrate you after 7-8 hours of dehydration overnight.
As you will be exercising most days, it’s important to keep hydration levels up throughout the day and take water consistently through your workouts.
Water helps to keep your energy levels up, keeps you focused, helps avoid muscle cramping and flushes toxins through your body.
Your Supplementation Plan Will Speed Up Your Results.
There can be some worry over using supplements, but if you are serious about building muscle, you will need to use certain supplements to help you.
Supplements will have a very positive effect on your journey to find out how long does it take to build muscle.
The supplements I recommend are:
Creatine is naturally produced in your body to create ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), which is used as energy for muscle contractions. Supplementing with Creatine increases the amount of ATP available, so increases your ability to contract your muscles at a higher rate.
Multi-vitamin supplements are exactly what they sound like. They are a carefully blended source of vitamins and minerals that support the natural functions of your body.
Whey protein is the most common form of protein powder adopted by bodybuilders and strength athletes alike as it's perfect as a healthy snack and as a post-workout supplement.
Casein is another type of protein, but the main benefit of it is its slow absorption rate. That means it offers a steady stream of amino acids for muscle growth over a longer period, making it a great ‘before bed’ supplement.
DHEA is a supplement that supports natural hormone levels, including testosterone, that decrease as you age. Supplementing with DHEA is claimed to support your immune system, help maintain and build muscle and bone, and help slow the aging process.
There are other supplements that are helpful for joint care, overall health, and testosterone support, but for muscle building in general, these are the ‘Golden 4’.
If you take these as recommended above, you’ll notice increases in muscular strength and size, along with increased energy and well-being.
Use a Progressive Workout Plan With Compound Lifts.
As you will know, next to diet, exercise is one of the other important parts of building muscle.
To build muscle, you’ll need to push your muscles to a point of overload, where you’ll cause micro-trauma to the muscle, which can then be repaired bigger and stronger through a mix of rest, diet and supplementation.
What exercises should I do?
When answering ‘How long does it take to build muscle?', you need to consider the exercises you'll do.
At the initial stage, you should rely on compound lifts that use multiple muscles to perform the lift.
Compound lifts are exercises like Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Bent over row and Overhead press.
Preferably, you would use dumbbells or kettlebells for these exercises as they are generally safer and incorporate more muscle fibres to perform them.
If you only have access to a barbell, then it will do fine, but as it is our mission to help you in the safest way possible, we tend to steer our guys towards dumbbells or kettlebells.
What reps & sets do I need?
You should split your exercise plan up into light, medium and heavy days. This is achieved by altering the rep ranges you’re using.
Heavy = 6-8 reps (If you can do 8 reps for all sets, then increase your weight next time)
Medium = 8-12 reps (If you can do 12 reps for all sets, then increase your weight next time)
Light = 12-15 reps (If you can do 15 reps for all sets, then increase your weight next time)
What is the exercise structure?
Your exercise plan should be structured so you complete resistance training 3 times per week with 48 hours between, so a Mon – Wed – Fri split tends to work very well.
With this, you can complete other physical activity or a HIIT cardio session on the days between (Tue – Thu – Sat), leaving 1 day of complete rest on a Sunday.
Training like this means your muscles get worked at each point where the growth potential starts to ebb (After 48 hours).
Muscle synthesis occurs over this 48-hour period after exercise, so completing a full body workout every 48 hours makes the most of it.
Rest & Recovery Is Key To Building Muscle.
Now we come to the final piece in learning how long does it take to build muscle, which is your rest and recovery.
I’ve already shown you above that you should be completing resistance training 3 days per week, 48 hours apart.
That means you should be resting your muscles between these sessions by not putting them through overload. Normal activity or cardio exercise is fine during this time.
Rest combined with good nutrition is what will make your muscles grow.
You cause micro-damage to your muscles when you train, so fuelling them and resting them is imperative to allow them to recover and grow.
How much sleep do I need?
Another serious consideration when you're learning how long does it take to build muscle, is sleep.
You should make sure you get at least 7, preferably 8 hours sleep each night.
During your sleep cycle your body is balancing your hormone levels, so if you do not get enough sleep, you run the risk of your hormones having a negative effect on your muscle gains, rather than a positive one.
What if I struggle to sleep?
Sleep can dramatically impact how long it takes to build muscle. If you struggle to sleep at night, you should make sure you turn off blue light on your laptop, tablet or phone. This can be done by putting your device into ‘nightshift’ mode.
If you find that your room temperature is what keeps you awake, make sure to use a fan, air conditioning or an open window to cool it down.
A cooler room will often help you to get a better night’s sleep.
Whatever distractions may be causing you to miss sleep, I would encourage you to find a solution to it, as disturbed sleep will not help you get the gains you want.
You can check out our article, titled ‘Learn How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule in 6 Easy Steps', to help.
If it’s noise pollution, get ear plugs. Or, if it’s too much light, get darker curtains, a black-out blind, or wear a sleep mask.
Maybe you’re susceptible to caffeine. If so, have your last coffee before midday.
Do whatever you can to facilitate a good night’s sleep. Your body will thank you.
So, How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle?
As you can see, there are quite a few considerations to make when you ask, “How long does it take to build muscle?”, but I hope this article has given you some insight into what affects muscle growth and what you can do to increase your chances of building it.
If you follow the advice I have laid out here, and most importantly, stay consistent, you will notice changes that run alongside the table at the start of the article and in the video.
I wish you all the best in your muscle gain efforts and look forward to hearing about your success, which you can send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your new friend & health coach,
Small note about research cited in this article:
*Always remember: weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual. Just because these studies cite certain data does not mean you will experience these results/outcomes. Always consult with your doctor before making decisions about your health. This is not medical advice – simply well-researched information about how long does it take to build muscle. Thanks for reading!