Protein is an essential macronutrient that supports healthy tissue and muscle. When you're trying to gain weight, especially in the form of muscle, extra servings of protein help you boost calories and support workouts. Protein isn't just for bodybuilders; the average woman looking to build muscle and strength benefits from a daily intake of 0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight. For a 130-pound woman, that's about 78 to 117 grams per day. Spread your protein consumption over several meals and snacks. Choose quality proteins, rather than those high in preservatives and saturated fats, to add calories and boost your nutrient intake.
Calories to Help Women Gain Weight
Plan to gain just 1/2 to 1 pound per week, which requires a daily calorie surplus of just 250 to 500 calories. Gaining at a faster rate means you'll put on excess body fat rather than concentrated muscle.
If you tend to gain fat easily, aim for the slower rate of gain and just 250 extra calories daily. If your metabolism is particularly high and weight gain is a challenge, a 500-calories-per-day surplus may be a better goal. When you're trying to gain weight, added calories should come from a mix of unsaturated fats, starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains as well as protein.
Add Protein Servings to Gain Weight
One way to boost calories with protein is to simply increase portion sizes at meals. Serve yourself an extra 1/2 cup of black beans on a lunchtime salad for 115 more calories and 8 grams of protein; scramble three eggs to have with your breakfast cereal for 273 calories and 18 grams of protein; or have two additional ounces of steak at dinner for 114 calories and 16 grams of protein.
High-calorie snacks between meals aid in weight gain. Make them protein rich by choosing a cup of cottage cheese mixed with raisins and almonds; deli turkey with cheese and whole grain crackers; or Greek yogurt mixed with granola and berries.
Protein to Support Workout Gains
For a woman intent on building muscle, a pre- and post-workout snack supports efforts at the gym. In the hour before you lift weights, have a protein snack such as two hard-boiled eggs with a banana or a cup of milk mixed with protein powder. As soon as you can after your workout, consume a snack with at least 15 to 20 grams of protein. Something similar to your pre-workout snack is an option, but so is a full meal such as salmon with broccoli and a baked sweet potato. While your overall protein intake for the day plays a more important role in your overall muscle and weight gain, consuming protein soon after you workout helps recovery.
For convenience, make a protein smoothie with 1 cup of yogurt, 1 banana, 1/2 to 1 cup of berries, a handful of spinach, a tablespoon of flaxseeds and 1 1/2 to 2 scoops of protein powder. Drink half prior to your workout and stash the rest in a portable cup to drink immediately afterwards. This smoothie contains about 500 calories total and almost 40 grams of protein.
High-Calorie Sources of Protein
Lean meats, poultry and fish aren't always the most calorie-dense protein choices available, especially if you have a limited appetite and can't take in more than a few ounces at a time. Peanut butter provides almost 200 calories and 8 grams of protein per 2-tablespoon serving and can be eaten on the go with crackers, on whole-grain bread or as a dip for fruit. Pour a cup of trail mix into a zipper bag to graze on all day for 693 extra calories and 20 grams of protein. Or if you prefer to snack on seeds, a cup of pumpkin seeds provides 39 grams of protein and 721 calories.