The Science of “Newbie Gains,” Explained

Key Takeaways

  1. Newbie gains refer to the rapid increase in muscle mass that occurs when people with little to no previous weightlifting experience start lifting weights.
  2. Most men who are new to weightlifting can expect to gain around 20 to 25 pounds of muscle in their first year, and women can expect to gain about half of that, but progress slows dramatically after this point.
  3. If you’ve been following a poorly designed diet or training plan, you can make newbie-like gains even if you’ve been training for years (keep reading to learn how).

If you’re new to lifting weights, I envy you.

You have an advantage that I and every other experienced weightlifter will never have.

What is it, you wonder?

In a nutshell, it’s the ability to build muscle quickly.

The sad truth is that old hands in the weight room, like me, have a snowflake’s chance on the sun of building more than five pounds of muscle in a year (and that’s being optimistic).

*single tear*

That’s great news for you, though.


Because if you’ve never lifted weights before, are new to lifting weights, or you’ve made little progress since you started lifting weights, you can build muscle a lot faster than I can.

If you’re skeptical, I understand.

  • Maybe you think you’re a “hardgainer” who’s destined to stay small, weak, and forever flailing away at weights in vain.
  • Maybe you think you’ve strained every milligram of muscle you can out of your physique, and your only hope of getting bigger and stronger is using steroids.
  • Maybe you don’t believe you can gain muscle or strength when you start lifting weights because your cousin’s boyfriend’s babysitter said it didn’t work for him.

Well, I’ll wager all of my stinky gym socks and stained T-shirts that none of those things are true.

I’ve worked with thousands of people who felt the same way. One for one the people who followed my advice got bigger, leaner, and stronger.

And the ones who really had their diet and training plans in check made most of their gains in the first six months after they started. Often, they pulled this off while gaining very little body fat or even losing some.

This phenomenon is what lifters refer to as “newbie gains,” and there are a lot of conflicting opinions about this subject online.

Some say that while some people experience newbie gains, others aren’t so lucky.

Others say that more or less everyone can gain boatloads of muscle and little or no fat, eating whatever and however much they want as long as they pulverize their muscles with weights.

Other say that you can make newbie gains if you’re a complete beginner, but if you’ve already been training for a while you’re SOL.

Who’s right?

Well, both groups are right and wrong.

The truth is that if you’re new to proper weightlifting and dieting, you can gain more muscle during your first year in the gym than you ever will again.

What’s also true, though, is that it’s easy to cheat yourself out of this productive period if you make a few common mistakes.

In this article, you’re going to learn . . .

  • What newbie gains are and what causes them
  • How much muscle you can expect to gain in your newbie gains phase
  • Why newbie gains always end
  • Whether or not you can miss out on newbie gains
  • How to eat and train when your newbie gains end
  • And more.

Let’s start by defining exactly what newbie gains are.

What Are Newbie Gains?

Newbie gains refer to the rapid increase in muscle mass that occurs when people with little to no previous weightlifting experience start lifting weights.

Typically, these people are also able to build muscle quickly while gaining very little fat or in some cases even losing fat.

This occurs because when you’re new to lifting weights, your body is hyperresponsive to the effects of resistance training.

As a result, you can gain muscle much faster when you first start lifting weights than you can after years of resistance training.

Here are a few examples of guys who experienced rapid newbie gains when they started following a proper resistance training plan, in this case, the Bigger Leaner Stronger program:

newbie gains transformation
newbie gains transformation
newbie gains before after
newbie gains before after
newbie gains pictures
newbie gains pictures

Newbie gains aren’t just for guys, either. Here are some women who experienced outstanding newbie gains when they started following the Thinner Leaner Stronger program:

newbie gains before and after
newbie gains before and after
newbie gains women
newbie gains women
newbie gains pics
newbie gains pics

For reasons you’ll learn in a moment, newbie gains tend to last for about one year, with much of that progress occurring in the first six months after you pick up a barbell.

If you play your cards right, this first year of lifting can be one of the most productive you’ll ever experience. If you play your cards wrong, though, then you won’t get the same results that these people did.

Let’s start on the positive side—how much muscle can you expect to build during your newbie gains phase if you do things right.  

How Much Muscle Can You Build During Your Newbie Gains Phase?

Sadly, there’s very little research on exactly how quickly you can gain muscle as a newbie lifter.

In fact, there’s very little research on how much muscle you can hope to gain in your lifetime (although you can use somewhat accurate models to get a reasonable estimate).

Furthermore, what little research we do have indicates that our ability to build muscle is highly variable.

Another study conducted by scientists at Indiana University sheds additional light on how much muscle you can gain as a newbie lifter.

In this study, the scientists had 585 untrained men and women do bicep curls with their non-dominant arm for 12 weeks. For the workouts, the participants did 3 sets of curls, starting with a weight they could do 12 reps with before reaching failure and adding weight until they could only do 6 reps.

The study doesn’t mention how often the subjects performed this workout, but it was probably once per week.

The researchers recorded everyone’s strength as well as their biceps size using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before and after the 12-week study.

On average, everyone’s biceps grew about 19% and their one-rep max for the biceps curl increased 54%.

When you look at the individual data, though, you can see that not everyone got the same mileage out of these workouts.

Some people’s biceps got slightly smaller, and one person’s biceps grew 60% larger—three times more than most of the participants. Some of the people also gained no strength to speak of whereas one person increased their biceps curl one-rep max by 250%.

Ss you can see, some people experience far more newbie gains than others, but almost everyone sees a rapid and substantial uptick in strength and size when they start lifting weights.

So, instead of picking apart the few studies that do exist on this topic and trying to piece together an answer, we can turn to expert opinion and real-world experience for more useful answers.

And few people have more experience estimating the ability of new lifters to build muscle than Lyle McDonald and Alan Aragon.

Let’s look at each of their conclusions first, and then I’ll share another method I came up with.

Lyle McDonald’s Answer

Lyle McDonald is a writer, researcher, and the creator of, one of the best resources for in-depth fitness knowledge on the net.

Here’s Lyle’s estimate of how much muscle you can gain in your first year of lifting:

lyle mcdonald muscle potential
lyle mcdonald muscle potential

His formula is based on his extensive reading of the literature and experience helping thousands of people improve their body composition.

Based on what he’s read and seen, he estimates that guys can gain anywhere from 20 to 25 pounds of muscle (~2 pounds per month) in their first year of proper weightlifting. Keep in mind, that means 20 to 25 pounds of pure muscle, not 20 to 25 pounds of body weight.

A common misperception among newbie lifters is that any weight they gain after they begin resistance training is muscle. This is why you’ll often hear beginners say they gained 40 or 50 pounds of muscle in their first year.

They didn’t.

In reality, they gained 40 or 50 pounds of body weight, about half of which was actual muscle if they’re lucky with the other half being a combination of body fat, water, and glycogen.

(And if they make some of the mistakes we’ll cover in a moment, most of this added weight could be fat.)

Lyle estimates that women can gain about half as much muscle as men in their first year of proper weightlifting, or 10 to 12 pounds of muscle (~1 pound per month).

Alan Aragon’s Answer

Alan Aragon is a published researcher and fitness consultant who’s been designing diet and exercise programs for over 20 years.

Based on what he’s seen working with everyone from everyday gymgoers to Olympic athletes, most men can gain muscle at about this rate:

alan aragon muscle gain
alan aragon muscle gain

As you can see, Alan’s muscle-building model is based on gaining a percentage of your body weight per month.

Naturally, this is only accurate for people who are relatively lean to start with, or around 10 to 20% body fat for men and 20 to 30% body fat for women. This is because a 1% increase in body weight for someone with a healthy body weight is going to be a lot less than a 1% increase in body weight for someone who weighs 400 pounds.

Here’s an example to show how this formula works.

When I started lifting weights I was about 140 pounds and 10% body fat. Based on Alan’s model, I could expect to gain about 1.4 to 2.1 pounds of muscle per month, which is right in line with Lyle’s conclusions. (I only gained about 10 pounds of muscle in my first year for reasons we’ll go over in a moment).

Finally, let’s go over my model.

Armi’s Answer

Lyle and Alan’s answers are going to be accurate for most people and they’re usually what I refer to when people ask me what they can expect when they start lifting weights.

That said, some people simply crave more precise answers (whether they need them or not), so I want to give you a slightly more involved but accurate formula for estimating your ability to make newbie gains.

This is based on Casey Butt’s frame-size model of muscle gain, which states that how much muscle you can build over your lifetime mostly depends on the size of your skeleton.

You can read this article to get the whole scoop, but the short story is that this is likely the most accurate method of estimating your ability to build muscle.

Once you have this number in hand—how much total muscle you can hope to build in your lifetime—then you can reverse engineer how much muscle you can expect to build at various points in your lifting journey.

Based on my experience, I’ve found that if people do everything right with their training and diet, they can generally make about 50% of their potential lifetime muscle gains in their first year of training.

In year two, they can make about half the gains they made in year one.

In year three, they can make about half the gains they made in year two.

And so on and so forth.

Now, you may be wondering, won’t you eventually hit your genetic ceiling for muscle growth after enough years of training?

Well, yes and no.

There is an absolute maximum amount of muscle you can gain in your lifetime, but it’s a moving target and scientists aren’t entirely sure if gains stop, or if they become too slow to measure.

You can think of muscle gain as similar to Zeno’s Race Course Paradox, also known as the dichotomy paradox. This little thought experiment explores what would happen if you were to take a series of continuous steps toward a wall, where each step is halfway to the wall.

For example, if the wall is 10 feet away, you’d move five feet on the first step. On the second step, you’d move 2.5 feet. On the third step, you’d move 1.25 feet.

If you were to graph your progress in this thought experiment, the wall becomes an asymptote—a point that you can get progressively close to, but never actually touch.

Here’s what it looks like:

asymptote muscle gain
asymptote muscle gain

If you want a good mental model for thinking about newbie gains, replace the word “curve” for your ability to build muscle, and “asymptote” for your ultimate genetic potential for muscle gain, and you’ll more or less have it taped.

I have no formal data to prove this, but based on my observations it seems that muscle gain follows a similar pattern as the Race Course Paradox.

This would also help explain why experienced lifters are able to keep making minuscule gains long after they’ve become proficient at the big compound lifts and their body weights have been stable for years.

In reality, experienced lifters probably can make small gains in muscle mass, but they’re simply too small to easily measure or see visually.

So, with that out of the way, here’s how to use this model to predict how much muscle you can gain in your first year of lifting and every year afterward:

  1. First, estimate your body fat percentage using the steps in this article. I was around 10% body fat and 140 pounds when I started lifting, so I’ll use those numbers for this example.
  2. Next, estimate how much muscle mass you’re carrying by subtracting your body fat percentage from 100 and converting it into a decimal. 100 – 10 = 90, which becomes 0.9. Multiply this number by your total body weight. Newbie-lifter-Armi multiplies 0.9 by 140 pounds, which gives him a lean body mass of 126 pounds.
  3. Next, estimate how much muscle you can expect to gain in your lifetime using the “Natural Muscular Potential Calculator” here. You’ll need to know the circumference of your wrists and ankles to use this calculator, so make sure you have a tape measure. Using my measurements, the calculator predicts that the most lean body mass I’ll ever have is about 180 pounds.
  4. Next, subtract your current lean body mass from your maximum predicted lean body mass to estimate how many pounds of muscle you can build in your lifetime. For me, this would be 180 – 126 = 54 pounds of muscle.
  5. Newbie-lifter-Armi multiples 54 by 50% to estimate his potential newbie gains during his first year of lifting, which gives him 26 pounds of muscle gain. If he wanted to predict his potential year two gains, he’d multiply 26 by 50%, which gives him 13 pounds of muscle, and so on.

Here’s what this would look like in graph form:

newbie gains how long
newbie gains how long

I’d take things one step further, too, and say that the bulk of your first-year gains tend to come in your first six months of lifting.

For example, a guy with average genetics could expect to gain anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds of muscle in the first six months (~1.5 to 2.5 pounds per month) and then 5 to 10 pounds of muscle in the subsequent six months (~1 to 1.5 pounds per month).

Even though you won’t be gaining muscle at the breakneck speed you were for the first six months, gaining 1 to 1.5 pounds of muscle per month is still outstanding progress, which is why it’s fair to say your newbie gains will last about a year.

Now, depending on who you follow online, those numbers may seem really small.

It’s not uncommon to hear of people who claim to have gained 40 or 50 pounds of pure muscle during their newbie gains phase.

While they probably aren’t lying—they did gain that much weight—they didn’t gain that much muscle.

The reason for this is that much of the weight you gain while bulking isn’t muscle.

A good example of this fact comes from a study conducted by scientists at the University of São Paulo.

The scientists had 10 untrained men aged 27 years old follow a two-day per week lower-body strength training plan for 10 weeks.

The workouts consisted of 3 sets of both leg press and leg extensions for 9 to 12 reps to failure. The participants were told to avoid any other kind of exercise during the study and to continue their normal eating habits aside from drinking a whey protein shake after their workouts.

The scientists also measured lifter’s muscle circumferences, used ultrasound to measure their muscle thickness, and took blood tests of various markers related to muscle damage.

They found that muscle thickness increased 17% above baseline after 3 weeks of training, but only 14% above baseline after 10 weeks of training.

How could these lifters gain more muscle after 3 weeks of training versus 10 weeks? Did they lose muscle for the next 7 weeks of the study?


The most likely explanation for these bizarre results is that most of the increase in muscle thickness was thanks to an increase in inflammation and water weight, not an increase in muscle growth.

The researchers also found that blood markers of muscle damage and inflammation were significantly higher than baseline after 3 weeks of lifting weights and that they’d returned to normal after another 7 weeks of lifting weights.

Therefore, they hypothesized, the short-term spike in muscle thickness after 3 weeks of lifting was due to inflammation, swelling, and fluid retention, not an increase in the size of their muscle fibers.

As the lifters became accustomed to the workouts the swelling, inflammation, and water weight dissipated, and they were left with a clearer picture of how much actual muscle these young gents really gained.

Another reason many new lifters experience strangely rapid weight gain is they’re eating a lot more calories than usual.

This also boosts body weight by increasing water retention, especially if you eat a lot of carbs and sodium (bagels, anyone?). Simply eating more of any kind of food will make you gain weight because you’ll be carrying more food around in your digestive system, too.

All told, this increase in calories can make you gain 10 pounds of body weight in a matter of days, and it disappears just as quickly when you return to your normal eating habits.

You’ll also hear people claim that they gained 20, 30, or even 40 pounds of muscle after years of lifting weights.

There are two plausible explanations for this:

  1. They were doing more or less everything wrong in the gym and the kitchen, and they experienced “catch up” growth after they got their act together (more on this in a moment).
  2. They started taking steroids.

The unfortunate truth is that many steroid users like to use newbie gains as an alibi for their ill-gotten gains, and if you aren’t familiar with the science of muscle growth, it’s easy to fall for their ploys.

For example, steroid users will often claim they gained 30 or 40 or 50 pounds of pure muscle in their first year of lifting thanks to newbie gains, and have been maintaining ever since. One obvious steroid user spun me a yarn like this several years ago.

“My dad was a bodybuilder back in the 80s, so when I started lifting weights I just blew up. Gained 40 pounds of muscle in six months. Good genetics is all.”

Nevermind the fact that he checked every box of a steroid user: an FFMI well north of 25, ridiculously low levels of body fat, freaky levels of strength, and a massive increase in muscle mass followed by years of little or no progress.

That last point is due to the fact that while steroids produce rapid muscle growth, users quickly reach a plateau in muscle gain after which the only way to keep building muscle is to up their dose.

In another case, a guy had made reasonable gains after several years of natural lifting, getting close to his genetic potential for muscle gain. Then, in a single year, he gained another 20 pounds of muscle mass and credited his breakthrough to “newbie gains” from trying a new program.

Sure buddy, a new training program that involves injecting 1,000 mg of testosterone every week.

So, the point is this: don’t let steroid users give you false expectations of what you can achieve from newbie gains. While your mileage from lifting weights may vary, the general rule is that if you’re following a good strength training program, you’re going to gain less muscle every year you continue. If someone deviates wildly from that pattern, they’re probably cheating.

The bottom line is that you can expect newbie gains to last about a year, with most of your gains coming in the first six months. You can expect to gain about 20 to 25 pounds of muscle during your first year if you’re a man, and 10 to 12 pounds of muscle if you’re a woman.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Why Do Newbie Gains End?

Logically, you know that you can’t keep building heaps of muscle forever, but . . . why not?

Why do newbie gains plateau so quickly after the first year?

Why can’t you expect to keep building muscle at more or less the same rate right up until you reach your genetic potential?

The answer can be found in a concept known as the stress-recovery-adaptation cycle.

This process describes how the body grows stronger in response to various stressors, like strength training.

Here’s a diagram that explains the concept:

stress recovery adaption
stress recovery adaption

As you can see, every stressor causes a temporary decline in ability, which is then followed by a period of recovery where the body adapts by becoming stronger and better able to deal with similar stressors in the future, leading to a greater level of ability.

This pattern plays itself out in all kinds of scenarios. When you’re new to any activity, be it driving a car, swinging a golf club, or lifting weights, your first foray is going to be stressful.

You’ll feel awkward, weak, and likely exhausted by the end of the first session. If you take your foot off the gas for a little while, though, and allow your body to adapt, then you recover and become even more proficient at your new endeavor.

In order for your body to keep adapting and growing stronger, you have to expose it to ever-increasing levels of stress.

As you reach higher levels of skill, competence, or muscle gain, though, it becomes more and more difficult to recover and adapt to the increasing workload. Finding the ideal balance between enough stress for continued growth and enough rest for adaptation becomes increasingly difficult, and progress slows from leaps and bounds to baby steps.

If you want to understand why newbie gains dry up, replace the word “stress” with “lifting weights,” and “adaptation” with muscle gain, and you’ll have it down pat.

Your body can only handle so much stress before the system fails to adapt.

Let’s look a bit deeper and see what this process looks like inside the body.

One of the ways the body adapts to lifting weights is by ramping up a process known as muscle protein synthesis, which is the building of new muscle proteins out of amino acids.

Amino acids are small molecules that combine to form proteins, and they’re constantly being disassembled and reassembled in your body.

When the amino acids in muscle tissue are broken down, this is referred to as muscle protein breakdown.

These processes of synthesis and breakdown are simultaneously active at all times, but to varying degrees.

For example, when you’re in a fasted state, protein breakdown rates rise, and if they exceed synthesis rates, the result is muscle loss. This is called a state of negative protein balance.

When you eat protein, protein synthesis rates rise and if they exceed breakdown rates, the result is muscle gain. This is called a state of positive protein balance.

In this way, your body moves between anabolic and catabolic states each and every day.

If you want to build muscle, then you need to keep muscle protein synthesis rates higher than muscle protein breakdown rates over time.

The best way to increase muscle protein synthesis is to stress your muscles by lifting heavy weights.

After a strength training workout, muscle protein synthesis rates remain elevated for up to 72 hours post-workout when you’re new to lifting weights. During that time, your body’s muscle-building machinery is humming along at full bore, doing whatever it can to build new muscle tissue and brace itself for the next bout of training.

Assuming you’re eating enough protein and calories and getting enough sleep—the “recovery” part of the stress-recovery-adaptation process—the net result over time will be muscle growth.

Over time, though, your body becomes much more efficient at repairing the damage caused by lifting weights, and the rise in protein synthesis after a workout becomes more and more short-lived.

A clear example of this phenomenon comes from a study conducted by scientists at the University of São Paulo.

The scientists combed through studies that looked at rates of post-workout muscle protein synthesis in both trained and untrained lifters. Notably, they only included studies that compared levels of actual muscle protein synthesis, not whole-body protein synthesis, which includes protein synthesis in the liver, blood, and other organs.

Based on the five studies that met their criteria, the scientists found that there’s a much greater and more prolonged spike in muscle protein synthesis after training in newbie weightlifters versus experienced weightlifters.

You can see this difference clearly in this chart, pulled from the same study:

newbie gains study
newbie gains study

The dotted line marked by squares indicates the percentage increase in post-workout muscle protein synthesis in untrained lifters. The dotted line marked by triangles indicates the increase for trained lifters.

As you can see, the untrained weightlifters’ levels of muscle protein synthesis spike immediately after the workout, continue to increase for another 10 or so hours, and then remain significantly above baseline for two days. The researchers found that in several studies it took three days for muscle protein synthesis to return to baseline after a workout in newbie lifters.

On the other hand, the trained weightlifters’ levels of muscle protein synthesis reach their zenith about 5 hours after their workout, plummet shortly thereafter, and return to baseline about a day later.

When you add up the total boost in protein synthesis both groups experienced in the hours after their workouts, the untrained lifters saw a 4,000% increase in muscle protein synthesis versus a 1,500% increase in the trained lifters.

One way to overcome this problem as you become more advanced is by increasing your workout frequency and volume.

Instead of training a muscle group once or twice per week or about once every three or four days, you train it two or three times per week, or once every two or three days.

In this way, you can boost muscle protein synthesis rates more times per week, leading to more muscle growth over time.

Another way to increase muscle protein synthesis as a more advanced lifter is to give your muscles a stronger stimulus to grow. In other words, do more sets.

Both of these techniques—increasing frequency and volume—only work up to a point though. You can only keep training a muscle group more often and with more sets for so long before you start to run into symptoms of overtraining.  

Furthermore, as you approach your genetic potential for muscle growth, every additional unit of effort you put into your training is going to yield smaller and smaller gains.

For example, a meta-analysis conducted by James Krieger, a member of my supplement company’s scientific advisory board, found that you could expect roughly a 40% increase in muscle growth by doing two or three sets per muscle group per week instead of one set.

If you were to increase your workload to 4 to 6 sets per muscle group per week, you could expect another 30% boost in muscle growth.

In other words, you could expect about 70% more growth by doing four to six times as much work. That pattern continues as you become more advanced, too, with every additional set resulting in less and less of a boost in muscle growth.

Herein lies the fundamental reason the sun sets on your newbie gains after about a year:

It takes about this long for your body to adapt to lifting weights, and once it does, your rate of muscle gain is going to be significantly diminished for as long as you keep lifting weights.

After this “honeymoon” phase is over, “the grind” begins, and the best you can hope for from this point on is to keep making small, incremental increases in muscle growth year to year.

If this has taken some of the wind out of your sails, don’t despair. Nothing worth having ever came easy, and everyone who’s ever built a great physique without using steroids has followed the same journey.

Can You Miss Out On Newbie Gains?

can you waste newbie gains
can you waste newbie gains

Some people believe that if you train and eat poorly during your first year of lifting, you can fumble the process and miss out on newbie gains.

There’s a kernel of truth there, but it’s more wrong than right.

If you do a lot wrong during your first year of lifting, like I did, then you won’t gain as much muscle as you should.

For example, if you aren’t eating enough calories or protein, aren’t trying to add weight or reps to your lifts every time you step into the gym, and you aren’t sleeping enough, you probably won’t build as much muscle as the formulas in this article predict.

Some people continue to make these mistakes for months, years, and even decades, sometimes only realizing the error in their ways in their late thirties or early forties.

Once you hit that age, you aren’t going to be able to train as hard, heavy, or often as someone who’s younger, and you won’t build muscle as quickly.

If you correct course before it’s too late, though, and only spend a few months or years spinning your wheels, like I did, then you can make “newbie gains” even if you already have a few years of weightlifting experience under your belt.

I’m a good example.

When I started lifting weights at age 16, I was following a good program (Starting Strength), but I only gained about 10 pounds of muscle in my first year of lifting, and stayed at the same weight for several years after that point.


I was also competing in triathlons and cycling races, which made it more or less impossible to progress as fast as I should have with my strength training or eat enough to gain weight.

I’d certainly put on some size and had bumped my weight up to 150 at about 10% body fat, but if I’d been training and eating properly, I should have been approaching my genetic limit for muscle growth by my early 20s.

After I stopped racing bikes and got more serious about strength training and proper dieting, I was able to go from 150 to 170 pounds in just a few years, while staying under 15% body fat.

In other words, I experienced a second round of “newbie gains” by changing my diet and training.

I’m currently 180 pounds and 12% body fat, which means that while things have slowed down (as they should), I’ve continued to gain a bit of muscle year after year.

The point of all of this is that while it’s possible to miss out on your window of opportunity for building muscle quickly, that window lasts for a few decades.

If you’ve been training improperly for a few years, it’s entirely possible to experience newbie-like gains if you stop making silly mistakes and get serious about your diet and training.

And in case you’re wondering what I changed after year ~6 of training, keep reading.

What to Do When Your Newbie Gains Are Over

First of all, it’s time for a change in perspective.

As you now know, you can’t expect the gain train to keep rolling along at full speed.

Many people become disheartened when they realize that the rest of their lifting career has become the muscle gain equivalent of trench warfare: struggling for months or years to advance a few inches.

What matters, though, isn’t your rate of progress at this point, but the simple fact that you are making progress. As long as you’re getting stronger, then you’re moving in the right direction.

Second, be willing to change your program. What got you here probably won’t get you there. You have to be willing to work harder, work smarter, and put more time into planning your workouts once your newbie gains have disappeared.

Third, you need to become more fastidious about your diet. Eating as much as you can while bulking can work for your first year or so, but that strategy is going to result in rapid fat gain when you’re past the beginner stage.

Likewise, you can get away with crash dieting when cutting as a beginner because you simply don’t have that much muscle to lose. As you become more advanced, though, it also becomes harder to hold on to your hard-earned gains when you restrict your calories for fat loss.

To accomplish these three goals, there are five things you should keep in mind as you transition from being a beginner to an intermediate lifter:

1. Maintain a moderate calorie surplus of 5 to 10% when bulking.

This should allow you to gain two to four pounds per month, which should be your goal after your newbie gains are finished.

Women should shoot for half this number: one to two pounds per month.

If you’re not sure how to determine your calorie intake, read this article:

This Is the Best TDEE Calculator on the Web (2019)

2. Eat around one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.

This is enough to ensure you’re getting all of the benefits of a high-protein diet.

There’s no need to eat more protein than this to build muscle.

If you want to know where this recommendation comes from, read this article:

How Much Protein You Should Eat to Build Muscle

3. Cycle between bulking and cutting until you’ve gained the size you want.

You can build muscle and lose fat at the same time, or “recomp,” when you first start lifting weights.

This becomes increasingly difficult as you become a more advanced lifter, though, and after your first year or two of lifting it becomes a fool’s errand.

Here’s what you should do instead:

If you’re a guy and you’re over 15% body fat, cut down to about 10% before bulking. If you’re a woman and over 25% body fat, cut down to ~20% before bulking.

Once you’ve reached 10 or 20% body fat, maintain a calorie surplus until you reach about 15% (men) or 25% (women) body fat, and repeat this process of gaining muscle and losing fat until you’ve reached the size you want.

Read this article to learn how to lose fat without losing muscle:

The Complete Guide to Safely and Healthily Losing Weight Fast

And read this article to learn how to build muscle while minimizing fat gain:

The Best Way to Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat

4. Emphasize progressive overload in your training above all else.

Progressive overload refers to increasing the amount of tension your muscles produce over time, and the most effective way to do this is by progressively increasing the amount of weight that you’re lifting.

In other words, the key to gaining muscle and strength isn’t doing a laundry list of different exercises, balancing on a BOSU ball, or seeing how much you can sweat on everything in the gym.

It’s making your muscles work harder over time.

And this is exactly what you do when you gradually force them to handle heavier and heavier weights.

Read this article to learn more about what strength training programs you should follow to keep getting bigger and stronger:

The 12 Best Science-Based Strength Training Programs for Gaining Muscle and Strength

5. Consider taking supplements to increase muscle gain.

newbie gains muscle
newbie gains muscle

I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.

You see, supplements don’t build great physiques—dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money . . . the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you build muscle as quickly as possible and make the most of your newbie gains.


Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements—the subject of hundreds of studies—and the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps . . .

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I recommend Legion Recharge.

Recharge is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

So if you want to gain muscle and strength faster and recover better from your workouts, you want to try Recharge today.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I take casein and whey protein supplements.

Whey+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

Casein+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored casein isolate also made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland.

In terms of which protein powder is better, it doesn’t really matter.

Casein digests slightly slower than whey, providing a steady stream of amino acids to the muscles for growth and repair, which some experts believe may make it a better choice for building muscle.

Whey, on the other hand, is digested faster and produces a more rapid rise in amino acid levels, which some experts think might enhance post-workout muscle growth.

Most evidence shows it’s a wash, though, and you won’t notice any difference in muscle growth between casein or whey so long as you eat enough protein every day.

Personally, I like the creaminess and flavor of the casein protein more, so that’s become my go-to.

So if you want to try a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey or casein isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk that tastes and mixes great, you want to try Whey+ or Casein+ today.

Pre-Workout Drink

There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,” which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why we sell our own pre-workout supplement. It’s called Pulse and it contains six of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:

  • Caffeine. Caffeine is good for more than the energy boost. It also increases muscle endurance and strength.
  • Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces exercise-induced fatigue, improves anaerobic exercise capacity, and can accelerate muscle growth.
  • Citrulline Malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that improves muscle endurance, relieves muscle soreness, and improves aerobic performance.
  • Betaine. Betaine is a compound found in plants like beets that improves muscle endurance, increases strength, and increases human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production in response to acute exercise.
  • Ornithine. Ornithine is an amino acid found in high amounts in dairy and meat that reduces fatigue in prolonged exercise and promotes lipid oxidation (the burning of fat for energy as opposed to carbohydrate or glycogen).
  • Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found primarily in tea that reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow, and improves alertness, focus, attention, memory, mental task performance, and mood.

And what you won’t find in Pulse is equally special:

  • No artificial sweeteners or flavors.
  • No artificial food dyes.
  • No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like and want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver, you want to try Pulse.

The Bottom Line on Newbie Gains

newbie gains lifting
newbie gains lifting

Newbie gains refer to the rapid increase in muscle mass that occurs when people with little to no previous weightlifting experience start lifting weights.

When you first pick up a barbell, your muscles are hypersensitive to the effects of resistance training and rapidly grow in response to lifting weights.

A good rule of thumb is that both men and women can gain about 1 to 1.5% of their body weight per month for their first year of weightlifting, with slightly faster muscle gain occurring in the first six months of lifting.

Assuming you’re doing everything right with your diet and training, this works out to around 20 to 25 pounds of muscle gain in your first year of lifting as a man and 10 to 12 pounds of muscle gain in your first year of lifting as a woman.

Newbie gains slow down considerably after your first 6 months of lifting, and they’re more or less gone after 12 months of lifting.

The reason for this is that the closer you get to your genetic potential for muscle gain, the harder it is to build muscle.

Although you may have gained considerably less muscle than you could have in your first year of lifting due to diet or training mistakes, you don’t really “miss out” on newbie gains.

As long as you’re relatively far from your ultimate lifetime potential for muscle gain, you can gain muscle rapidly even if you’ve been working out for years.

When the curtain begins to close on your newbie gains, there are five things you can do to maximize your rate of muscle and strength gain as you become an intermediate lifter:

  1. Maintain a moderate calorie surplus of 5 to 10% when bulking.
  2. Eat around one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
  3. Cycle between bulking and cutting until you’ve gained the size you want.
  4. Emphasize progressive overload in your training above all else.
  5. Consider taking supplements, such as creatine, protein powder, and a pre-workout drink, to increase muscle gain.

Do that, and you’ll continue to gain strength and muscle for years to come.

Happy lifting!

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

What’s your take on newbie gains? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Armistead Legge is the Editor-in-Chief for Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics. He has completed over 100 triathlons and cross-country, cycling, and adventure races, and has researched and written for over a dozen organizations, including the National Institutes of Health. When he isn’t helping people get into the best shape of their lives, he’s lifting weights, riding his bike, hiking, camping, reading, and making delicious food.

If you want a “paint-by-numbers,” step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body…faster than you ever thought possible…then you want to check out my bestselling books.

Here’s a little sneak peek of what you’ll learn inside…

  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body” without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

Bigger Leaner Stronger
Bigger Leaner Stronger

Bigger Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger
Thinner Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

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