Muscle magazine claims notwithstanding, a natural trainee is usually doing damn well to gain 0.5 pounds of muscle per week (and a female might gain half of that). Yes, you’ll occasionally see a faster rate of gain but much more than that (especially for sustained periods) tends to be rare.
And while that may not sound like much, realize that a 0.5 lb per week muscle gain over the course of a year comes out to 26 pounds of lean body mass. And most won’t get that past their first year of training.
However, to get that rate of muscle mass gain will usually require some amount of fat gain, depending on how much over maintenance you’re eating, this might be an additional half pound of fat per week. So a reasonable weekly or monthly weight gain rate might be 1 pound per week or 4 pounds per month of which about half should be muscle and the other half fat.
Short dieting cycles can be inserted to take off the fat of course, a number of people on my forum have been using the Rapid Fat Loss Handbook to strip off fat between short bulking cycles so that they can get back to normal training.
I’d note that this shouldn’t take a huge number of calories over maintenance. Assuming a trainee is not burning off excessive calories through either a ton of cardio (or NEAT), you’re not looking at much more than 500 calories over maintenance to support about the maximum rate of muscle gain for a natural lifter. I’d suggest putting a majority of that on training days (and around training) with a lesser surplus on non-training days. That should help keep fat gains down somewhat.
Of course, this will have to be adjusted based on real world changes in body composition. If you’re not gaining any weight, you need to up calories. If you’re gaining a disproportionate amount of fat, you need to cut things back.
2. Problems with Protein Intake
While less common than simply not eating enough, I have found many individuals to have problems with inadequate protein intake when it comes to the desire to build muscle. Although they don’t usually want or need to gain a lot of muscle, endurance athletes tend to be the worst in terms of not getting enough protein, since they frequently overemphasize carbohydrates to such a ridiculous degree. But even among weight trainers, occasionally you find someone who simply won’t eat sufficient protein to support gains in muscle mass. Considering the rather high protein intake of even the average American, anywhere from 2-3 times the RDA, this is a little odd.
What usually happens is that these individuals have fallen into the trap of the endurance athlete and overemphasized carbohydrates to the point of neglecting protein (and usually fat as well); this was a much bigger problem in the 80’s and 90’s when sports nutritionists overemphasized carbs but isn’t heard of now (now, the opposite extreme, carbs are the devil, is more often seen).
Sometimes, in their quest to eliminate dietary fat from their diet, trainees quit eating meat, this seems to occur a lot among female trainees. Vegetarians can have greater problems but even eggs, fish and chicken can fulfill protein requirements easily. And while there is the occasional claim of someone building a lot of muscle with a true vegan diet, I’d say that most who claim veganism turned to that AFTER building up their muscle mass with a more traditional diet.
Occasionally you find someone who just doesn’t like protein very much. Women, moreso than men, tend to underconsume protein and overconsume carbohydrates. As low as the RDA for women is (44 grams/day), I’ve still run into women who aren’t even getting that much protein a day in their diet. You get the idea.