As you work toward your weight loss goal, one thing you’re going to hear over and over is that you should eat lots of lean protein. It may feel counter-intuitive to focus on eating particular foods rather than cutting back on unhealthy ones. But there are five very important reasons that you need to include plenty of lean protein in your diet.

Protein helps you feel full. Protein moves more slowly through the digestive system, helping you to feel full and satisfied for longer. This translates into fewer cravings and binges on snacks. Naturally, over time this will translate into fewer calories consumed, resulting in weight loss.

Protein keeps your blood sugar more even. When you pair protein with carbohydrates, your blood sugar won’t spike and drop so dramatically. This prevents you from feeling lethargic after meals, which is often the reason given for lack of exercise. And without those mood-altering blood sugar crashes, you’re less likely to binge on a quick pick-up-up like candy or soda.

Processing protein burns more calories. Your body actually expends energy, through burning calories, in order to digest food. Since protein takes more energy to move through your digestive system, you can really “earn” those protein calories just by sitting around digesting!

Protein preserves your muscle tissue. As you’re losing weight, your body will burn both muscle and fat. Generally speaking, people want to burn fat only. Eating enough protein is the best way to encourage your body to burn fat instead, and to maintain your current muscle mass.

Protein helps your muscles grow and repair themselves. After intense exercise, your muscles need to recuperate and rebuild. Protein provides the essential amino acids your body needs to perform this activity.

Keep in mind that all foods contain calories. Protein-rich foods are no exception! So don’t go on an endless quest to consume as much protein as possible, or you risk going over your recommended daily intake of total calories. No matter how healthy your diet is, eating too many calories will sabotage your weight loss plan.

Remember to get about 20 percent of your total caloric intake from lean protein, or a little more than that if you are trying to add muscle mass. Balance the rest of your diet with plenty of whole grains and healthy produce, and you will keep your weight loss goals on track.