OK, so you probably know that protein is an essential part of your diet, but do you know what it is? Or why you need it? Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF TBS / Via giphy.com First things first: When we talk about eating more protein, we're actually talking about eating more proteins — plural. Proteins are large, complex molecular chains made up of amino acids, the organic compounds the body needs to do things like grow, break down food, and repair muscle tissue. There are 20 different types of amino acids that combine to make a protein, including nine "essential" amino acids that your body needs to function but can't make on its own. When you eat a protein-rich food, it's broken down to its component amino acids during digestion, and those amino acids get to work supporting your immune system, bone health, hormone signaling, and more. Think of proteins as the building blocks of your body. Real talk: You've gotta (GOTTA) focus on quality in addition to quantity. Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Much / Via giphy.com The truth is that most Americans are probably getting enough protein — just maybe not from the healthiest sources. Researchers have found that most Americans take in about 15% of their calories from protein, well within the 10–35% range recommended by the current dietary guidelines for Americans. However, not all protein sources are created equal! The standard American diet features an abundance of fast and processed foods, which means most of us are taking in a lot of extra sugar, fat, salt, and additives with our protein. Your best bet? Eat a wide variety of protein-rich foods, including plant-based ones. iStock Variety is the spice of life — and the best way to approach your diet. Eating a mix of different protein-rich foods ensures you're also getting a variety of other nutrients. Almonds are packed with heart-healthy vitamin E and magnesium. Egg whites contain potassium. Beans are loaded with fiber, which helps keep you full. Lean red meat is an excellent source of zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. Dairy contains calcium. Salmon is rich with heart-healthy fats. Post-workout protein isn’t just for bodybuilders. Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Comedy Central / Via giphy.com Remember how we said protein helps repair muscle tissue? That's particularly true after a hard workout. A post-workout snack with 10–20 grams of protein will help your muscles repair and grow. If you spend a lot of time at the gym, protein should be an essential part of your post-workout recovery routine. In fact, protein is beneficial even if you don't work out! iStock Seriously, there are a lot of benefits to eating enough protein. Here are just a handful: * Studies show a healthy diet of protein makes you feel more full.* According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a short-term effect of a protein-filled diet is improved "mental performance, mood, and sleep patterns."* In age-related studies, protein has combated cognitive decline. In short, protein is a total powerhouse nutrient that helps your body function the way it should. Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF Daft Arts / Via youlifestep.tumblr.com If you are what you eat, eat lots of protein. With RXBAR, there are no free rides, no fillers, and no BS. Just good, clean food with real ingredients. Courtesy of RXBar New customers can get 25% off and free shipping on the sample pack.