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It’s a question that everyone asks, particularly people just starting out in the gym. Anyone who tries to tell you how long it will take you to build 10 pounds of lean muscle mass is either telling you how long it takes the average person who trains, eats and sleeps optimally or is fabricating the answer to try to sell you something. No one can tell you how long it will take you personally to build muscle. The only honest answer is “it depends”. So, better questions are: “what does it depend on?” and “what can I do to build muscle faster?” Those are the questions that we answer for you in this series of articles.
So, what does it depend on? It depends on 9 principal factors:
The first thing to focus on is whether or not you have control over the factor. Simply put, you can control factors 1 through 6. You cannot control factors 7 through 9. In this first article we tell you about the factors you cannot control — your genetics, your gender and your age. It’s important to understand them, so you can move past them. In the next chapters we’ll talk about the factors you do control and we’ll tell you what you can do to build more muscle faster.
Genetics and Muscle Building
You cannot control your genetics. You were born to two parents who gave you a particular genetic make-up that you must live with for the rest of your life. Your genes will dictate many things to some extent. They include:
How you metabolize the food you eat.
How much testosterone and other hormones you produce.
The amount and distribution of fat and muscle in your body and the specific composition of your muscles.
These and a few other factors ultimately impact how well your body repairs and builds muscle after your workout. That defines how much muscle you build and how much time it takes to build it.
While the impact of your genetics on your ability to build muscle is interesting, it’s also ultimately unimportant. Some people are “extreme responders” who put on muscle with relatively little effort. Others are “hard gainers” who put on muscle more slowly than average or in smaller amounts. And no, it isn’t “fair”. It’s just the way it is. What’s important to know is that in the absence of extremely rare genetic conditions, everyone can build muscle. How fast you build muscle is impacted in part by your genetics, which you cannot control. So, instead focus on the things you can control.
Men and women have different hormone profiles. You will have your hormone profile your whole life, at least in the absence of pharmacological interventions to change your hormone profile.
More specifically, testosterone. Testosterone triggers muscle protein synthesis, the process by which your body repairs and grows muscle. Generally speaking, the higher your levels of testosterone, the faster you build muscle, provided of course you train, eat and sleep properly.
Testosterone is called the male sex hormone. Among other things, it drives male libido and promotes the physical characteristics commonly thought of as being male.
Both men and women produce testosterone naturally, men in their testes and women in their ovaries. Both men and women also produce estrogen naturally, the female sex hormone. But men produce far more testosterone and far less estrogen than women do. While women do build muscle, they build less than men do, all other factors being equal. While men may strive for a bulky muscular body (bigger muscles), women more commonly strive for a well-toned body (a lower fat to muscle ratio).
Two things happen as you age that impact your ability to build muscle. First, your body’s natural production of testosterone declines. The amount of testosterone produced naturally and the rate of decline differ from person to person. As a general matter, for men, testosterone production will increase rapidly during adolescence and peak at around age 20. From about age 30 onwards, men typically experience a decline of 1% per year. Women typically experience a precipitous decline at menopause, most often occurring between age 45 and 55.
Second, as we age, particularly in our 60’s and beyond, we become anabolically resistant. That means that the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis from the protein that we eat is reduced. Anabolic resistance can cause sarcopenia, the age-related decline in muscle mass that ultimately leads to old-age frailty. Importantly, the impact of anabolic resistance can be reduced and even reversed simply by exercising more and eating more protein.
So, the younger you are, the easier and quicker it is for you to build muscle. That said, you are never too old to do so.
If you want to know how long it takes to build muscle, read our next installments. We’ll tell you how to work best with all the factors you do control. We’ll also tell you about Hytro TechWear and BFR training which is the only legal way to supercharge muscle growth and build muscle faster.