Protein’s purpose isn’t simply to build muscle– it’s a key nutrient in fueling your body for everyday function. Protein is important in making hair, nails, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, enzymes and more. Higher-protein diets also help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, according to recent research. So how can we fuel our bodies with this essential nutrient throughout the day?

Try these 5 strategies
to reach your daily protein intake:

: Whether you’re going on a road trip or you just get hungry
during the day, pack high-protein snacks to help satisfy hunger and fuel your
body. Snacking on foods high in protein will boost energy levels and help
maintain a healthy metabolism. Control your daily intake by preparing snacks
ahead of time to take with you. Boiled eggs are a great source of protein that
can be made all at one time as a multiple-day snack. But on those rushed
mornings, grab quick snacks like string cheese, beef jerky or Greek yogurt on
your way out.

Use Milk in your Protein Shakes: Increase protein
consumption by using real dairy milk in your shakes. Cow’s milk has 8 grams of
natural protein in one 8 oz. serving! That’s twice the protein per serving than milk
“alternative” beverages. In addition to protein, milk also provides 3 of the 4
nutrients of concern that most Americans are missing from their diet: calcium, vitamin
B12 and vitamin D. Pairing dairy with your meals bridges the nutritional gap
and provides the nutrients your body needs. No wonder milk is nature’s most
perfect food!

Post-Workout Punch: You’ve crossed the
“workout” finish line… so treat yourself with a post-workout snack! Fueling
your body with protein and carbohydrates 30-45 minutes after working out is
essential in recovery. “Consuming carbohydrates after a workout will help replenish
the energy stores used during exercise, while protein assists in repairing
muscle that has been broken down,” explains Kelli Rossi, Associate Director of
Sports Nutrition at the University of Virginia. Enjoy a post-workout snack like chocolate
– it has the perfect combination of carbohydrates and proteins to
refuel tired muscles. Other snacks include peanut butter sandwiches, fruit and
yogurt smoothies or apples and sliced cheese.

Try Ancient Grains: Ancient gains are
packed with protein. Try spelt, amaranth, teff and quinoa to really up your
protein game. Chewy spelt contains over 10 grams of protein per cup! Amaranth,
with it’s somewhat earthy flavor, has 9 grams of protein per cup, as does teff
(which is slightly sweet). Quinoa is a great pasta substitute, and it has over
8 grams of protein per serving.

Be Consistent: Don’t force protein
consumption into a certain timeframe. Your protein intake should stay
consistent throughout the day, starting with breakfast. Sports Nutrition
Specialist Kristen Chang tells us, “consistent intake of protein ensures your body always has the tools it needs to build and
repair muscle.” Try adding egg whites or unsalted nuts to your meals for an
easy way to add protein. Or, just grab a glass of real dairy milk!

Maximize your fitness regime this year by making protein a priority. Protein is essential in building muscles, repairing damage and maintaining a healthy body weight, so use these 5 strategies to help reach your recommended daily protein intake and make the most out of your healthy lifestyle. Check out these great recipes packed with protein: