|First your numbers are wrong. The limit often given is 0.5lbs per week for a male. But that is really based on anecdotal data, not hard science. And it is an average per week based on what happens in a whole year.
It’s based on the assumption that the limit a natural non-beginner could add in a year is 25lbs of pure muscle tissue (not water, glycogen or fat). And from experience I would tend to agree with that. I personally have not seen someone (a natural non-beginner) gain over 25lbs of *muscle* in one year.
So they basically averaged that to 0.5lbs per week at the most. But that is not correct. Muscle growth normally comes in spurts, it isn’t linear. So you can gain a lot more muscle in 6 weeks than the theoretical 3lbs… you could even add 10lbs of muscle (or even more!) in that time frame. But that also means that gains will get slower and your yearly average will be below 0.5lbs per week.
There is also the water retention thing to consider. For example I’m a true sponge! I can gain or lose 10lbs of water in a few days… and the thing is that when I retain water it is mostly inside the muscle, which makes me look more muscular and also makes me stronger due to improved leverage and intramuscular friction. It’s not hard for me to add 15lbs in 2-3 weeks without looking much fatter, but a lot of it is water retention… which makes me stronger but also hurts my health.
Now is there an optimal rate of gain? Meadows talks about not exceeding 12% and I normally would agree with that. However the fact is that very few people are at 12% or less… they may claim to be at 10% or so, but they are probably closer to 15% or even more. People GROSSLY understimate their true body fat level and even calipers aren’t that effective in the wrong hands. To give you an example, I’m training an IFBB pro in the 2012 (Patrick Bernard) right now he is 9% body fat (I measured him myself) and he has deep abs, legs separation, tons of veins, etc.
I would say that when the average gym rat thinks he is 10% he really is 15%.
So the 12% rule works if you are starting from a very lean physique, not if you are higher in body fat already.
So it really becomes a matter of what your priority is (size, strength, looks) and how you feel about the way you look.