Allison Warrell, a physique competitor and personal trainer from Corona, California, eats seven meals a day. Every meal, she said, contains protein.

“Protein is definitely a main source of fuel for me,” she said.

Get energized

Protein provides energy for the body, allows it to build and repair cells and boosts metabolism. As such, it’s an essential macronutrient for everyday health.

“When you eat carbohydrates or foods with high sugar, you’ll soon be hungry again, and you may end up reaching for an unhealthy snack. Protein will keep you full for a longer period of time,” said Scott Ballard, co-founder of nutritional product company, YUP Brands.

Protein is especially important for athletes and other highly active individuals who want to feel their best. Before a workout, high-protein foods give them the energy they need to meet the demands of exercise. After a workout, those foods give them the tools necessary to recover.

“When you’re active, you’re basically tearing down your muscles,” he said. “So when you eat protein-rich foods, you’re providing nutrients to help heal your muscles so that they can recover and get stronger.”

Mix it up

Generally, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans consume the recommended amount of protein, but they sometimes choose high-protein foods that are high in in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure. They also don’t always sufficiently vary their protein sources.

For a healthy diet, it’s important to consume a variety of proteins, which provide different amino acids the body needs. That diversity can be achieved through meals derived from both animal and plant food sources. It can also be supplemented with sensible “grab-and-gos,” like nutritious protein bars.

“You want your body to work at peak level — like a fine-tuned machine,” said Ballard.