A Realistic Look at Goal Setting: Muscle Gain – Part 1

Previously, I have discussed the introduction to goal setting and fat loss. The next logical step in body composition is muscle gain. Before you scan over this article because you don’t think it applies to you, I want you to think twice and give it a chance. This is directed toward my female readers, in case you didn’t get the subtlety.


Muscle gain is about a lot more than just having the big gunz. The addition of muscle in the right places can increase symmetry in the body, improve posture, improve performance, and decrease the risk of injury. There are different reasons to gain muscle beyond those of a bodybuilder. In truth, everyone is a bodybuilder, it is just the structure they desire that varies.

Logical Amount of Muscle Gain

There has been a lot of discussion about this on the internet due to various advertisement and marketing methods of body authors and supplement companies. While I don’t care to wager on these contests, there are a few things that need to be discussed.

  • How much muscle you can gain over a period of time.
  • If there is a difference between males and females.
  • How much of a role body fat plays in seeing muscle definition.
  • How much muscle is desired/needed for various looks.

When you understand the above, it leads to a better approach toward selecting a program based upon your needs.

Gains Over Time

The development of muscle is dependent on multiple factors. The primary three are:

  1. Genetic Status – The body you were born with from metabolic functions to muscle fibers.
  2. Nutritional Intake – The amount of food you eat, especially protein.
  3. External Resistance – The load forced upon your body in life and training.

I will not be mentioning the use of drugs because the majority of my articles focus on natural bodybuilding.

A) I don’t coach clients that use, so my experience with it is limited.

B) I have a base understanding of each drug and don’t feel comfortable going beyond general information.

Genetic Status

When you are born, your base of growth is already somewhat determined. Much like a car, you come with certain stock and features in your genetic code. Some are considered damaged goods with faulty mechanisms and fail basic operations. Take for example my first car, a Ford Taurus, that would shut off in the middle of a turn, leaving me in the middle of many an intersection. There is a small minority of people, sadly, with that type of stock.

There are other people like a Bugatti Veyron, considered by some to be the best car in the world with its look and exceptional performance. They are also a very small minority.

Now, think of the majority of people as a Honda Accord. Anyone who has ever seen a car pimped out to its fullest knows that a Honda Accord can become one serious vehicle in its look and performance.

Nutritional Intake

Increasing muscle is about increasing protein storage in the muscle, so nutritional intake rates pretty high on the list of priorities. Having said that, I encourage you not to subscribe to two common thoughts:

  • Protein overload
  • Protein builds muscle out of nowhere

Too often bodybuilders and carbphobes believe that the route to building mass is through an insane intake of protein, neglecting the importance of fat and carbohydrates. Women usually do the opposite and don’t want to eat protein because it will build muscle out of thin air. Both are asinine, yet the dogma continues.

Another common flaw is that excessive intake isn’t needed. While some basic newbie gains can be made regardless of intake and only with excess simulation, an excess of daily need is important to stimulate growth, actually storage and repair.

Bucket o’ Rocks

Think of the process like a bucket of water being filled with rocks.

There is the bucket of water (muscle) and an outside influence of action (resistance) and storage (protein). The action of the rocks being dropped in is the external force being placed on the body. The rocks are the protein it stores. The outcome is the rise of the water in the bucket even though no extra water has been added to the bucket itself. Since we do not physically gain more muscle, we have to manipulate the muscle we already have in our bodies and the amount of protein storage we have because of that manipulation.

So what happens if you throw a lot of rocks in the bucket and then don’t allow them to stay?

That is essentially overloading muscle without enough excess nutrition to help increase storage. You will have the same level of muscle or perhaps even less if you toss in the rocks too aggressively and pull them out allowing spill over (overtraining and under recovery). The outcome is continuing to plateau or to eat into muscle you already have due to a lack of needed nutrients. Allowing the water to settle and the protein to store is key. Therefore, nutrition and rest are essential to muscle growth.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Monday.


  1. jeanne
    September 25, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Great article so far Leigh. I can’t wait till the 2nd part.
    If you aren’t already can you discuss if your goal is atrophy? If not in this article then in another one? Thanks.

  2. Missy
    September 25, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I’m a Yugo in the muscle genetic car gene pool!!
    Love these articles!!

  3. Crystal
    September 26, 2009 at 12:21 am

    I admit it I wouldn’t normally read an article like this but now I am curious! Looking forward to the next part.

  4. Jason
    September 26, 2009 at 12:22 am


    By the way I sent you an email to your trainer address. Let me know if you didn’t get it.

    See you Sunday!

  5. Building Muscle
    September 26, 2009 at 2:10 am

    great to went through this article, looking forward for your next post.

  6. Jason Chiero
    September 26, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Great Topic!
    You briefly touched on something that makes increasing muscle critical for people who have joint pain, poor balance or feel weak during daily activity.
    You said:
    “Muscle gain is about a lot more than just having the big gunz. The addition of muscle in the right places can increase symmetry in the body, improve posture,  improve performance, and decrease the risk of injury”
    More muscle is not just about looking “BIG” or getting “Toned Up”.
    I work with people everyday to improve Gait, Reduce Pain, Increase Functional Strength and Improve Quality of Life.   Interestingly to my clients who aren’t necessarily  trying to look better start to notice muscles they haven’t seen before.
    The bottom line is that increasing muscle size and strength is about way more than just looking good.
    When you follow the advice of people who understand how to get you there (like Liegh) you will get there  faster than you think and your quality of  life will be better than you had hoped for!
    As always thanks Leigh for your excellent work!
    Jason Chiero, CPT
    P.S. For anyone who needs Free help making sure they are performing exercises properly visit:

  7. Jason Chiero
    September 26, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Will you be talking any about muscle gains, posture and the benefits of improved posture on future posts?
    Jason Chiero

  8. Keith
    September 26, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Good stuff Leigh.

  9. […] last left off discussing how muscles are built and the important factors needed for the building of muscle. Now I want to touch on logical muscle […]

  10. Leigh Peele
    October 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Sorry for the delay to getting to these, but hopefully better late than never.

    Jeanne- No Atrophy will not be discussed, yet.

    Jason- I will be talking about goal setting for posture very soon.



  11. jamie hale
    October 14, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    When considering genetics, P-ratio is key factor that must be taken into consideration.  Many readers may not know exactly what I am referring to.  Below are excerpts from a conversation, at MaxCondition Forums, discussing P-ratio .

    hey coach
    i must say im impressed with the info you provide in your forum. i recently joined after seeing a number of your posts from various sites i visit/research from (BR and HST mainly).

    ill get to my point………question really.

    one of the main areas im currently trying to better understand is partitioning ratio. obviously we all would like to optimize our personal p-ratio (to the small degree that we can) but exactly how is the real question. im looking to find ways to realistically do just that all while avoiding “whale” style bulking and over the top “OCD” like training/diet manipulations.

    from my research to date this is what ive found/read.
    in the overall grand scheme only proper nutrition, exercise and/or drugs can effect the roughly 15-20% of the p-ratio that is not already set in stone via genetics.

    more specific strategies to enhance p-ratio. *excluding drugs.
    -modest calorie surplus/deficit. enough to allow lbm/wgt gain or loss but not huge chunks over a short time span.
    -adequate protein intake, at least 1g/lb, from quality, mainly actual food, sources.
    -proper pre/post w/o nutrition involving adequate protein intake before and signif (relative)carb intake after. amounts etc usually vary per individual.
    -perhaps IF eating protocol.
    -w/os’ that are based primarly on heavier wgts and lower reps.
    -w/o frequency. 2-4 times a week (depending on program/split etc.) but most likely more then 1x a week.

    OK, now the question(s). have i missed something? have i listed something that is wrong, a myth or been disproven? have i misunderstood or misinterpreted something?     

    My response:

    “adequate protein intake, at least 1g/lb, from quality, mainly actual food, sources.”

    I don’t think most people require that much protein (particularly ones with a low to moderate p-ratio). The Primary Research Data I have seen indicates 1.8-2 gms/ kg/bw per day. Now more is not necessarily bad and can be good under some conditions, but is is questionable if more further enhances gains in MPS. Observations I have made with my own quasi-experiments have shown that even lower levels can promote increases in MPS (.7-.8 gms /lbm per day). Of course I did not intravenously measure MPS I simply gauged this by strength and appearance.

    “w/os’ that are based primarly on heavier wgts and lower reps”

    There are a wide range of loads and reps that have been shown to increase skeletal muscle mass. The key issue is progressive increases in loads and total work (reps x load). This is covered in depth in Knowledge and Nonsense.

    I think you have a good grasp on P-ratio.

    Forum member response:

    thanks for the reply

    your right of course about the progressive load aspect of lifting………forgot to include that key element.

    ive read diff. opinions concerning amount of protein intake and have certainly come across sources that put 1g/lb as more of a “ceiling” as opposed to a minimum. i must admit ive havent yet seen lower protein req. connected to folks with low to moderate p-ratios. i would think the opposite to be true, even if just anecdotally. why is that?

    i could certainly see how ones insuline (in)sensitivity could also play a signif. role.
    someone with poor insuline sens. will want to place most carbs around w/o if possible to max that benefit (even going the IF diet route and place most all food around ones w/o). most fat will likely be tag along, neither seek (except efa’s) nor avoid (except excess sat.). that of course leaves protein which i would think would need to surpass 1g per lb just to have enough cals for a surplus.

    now despite how it reads i am not carb phobic (dont think so anyway) as so often happens with folks who seem to think they have even the slightest hint of ins. insenst. i dont feel every gram of carb over 50 is going to fat stores. im just looking at this from a “lets max p-ratio” point of view and i would think “more” cals from pro. (for someone insuline insenst.) would be preferable to cals from carbs (except primarely around w/o) or fat.

    does my thinking make any sense? am i way off base here?

    My response:

    “ive read diff. opinions concerning amount of protein intake and have certainly come across sources that put 1g/lb as more of a “ceiling” as opposed to a minimum. i must admit ive havent yet seen lower protein req. connected to folks with low to moderate p-ratios. i would think the opposite to be true, even if just anecdotally. why is that?”

    Payne and Dugdale (1977) A direct relationship between protein and energy is also suggested by the P theory. During tissue mobilisation, it predicts that a constant fraction of energy should be derived from the breakdown of protein, i.e., the P ratio should remain constant. Extending this model further, I propose that the P ratio may not only influence energy balance Since the ratio FUNL/BMR has been shown to be constant in an individual, the allometric relationship reported here between FUNL/BMR and ONL suggests that all three parameters are closely connected and bear a physiological relationship to one another. It is therefore proposed that subjects with a low P ratio (i.e., the obese) will not only have a lower FUNL but also a smaller ONL and hence a lower protein requirement.

    MPS- muscle protein synthesis

  12. Elizeth
    April 24, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    “everyone is a bodybuilder”. I’ve never really thought of myself as a bodybuilder before! 🙂 I’m working on getting toned……

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