In a perfect world, we’d have time to hit the Whole Foods hot bar, or at least snag a Sweetgreen salad (double protein, of course) at lunch hour. But hectic days call for convenience, and sometimes the best you can do is put in a quick order at Chick-fil-A and worry about your health later.
While we’d never advocate for fast food as your main source of nutrition, the occasional lapse happens. And when it does, opting for high-protein fast food can keep you moving towards your muscle-building goals and satisfied through afternoon meetings. From an In-N-Out protein-style double-double to a perfectly-built Chipotle bowl, here’s what to order next time you find yourself in the drive-thru.
Is Fast Food a Good Source of Protein?
It depends on what you order. As a category, fast food is an okay source of protein. One win for fast food is that most menus feature plenty of options packed with complete sources of protein—which contain all nine essential amino acids—like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. That said, fast food restaurants often cut corners on the quality of ingredients to keep costs down. Meaning, it’s rare to find organic, pasture-raised meat, eggs, or dairy which pack more vitamins and minerals than their grain-fed counterparts (1).
Is High-Protein Fast Food Healthy?
Not always. Many high-protein fast food items are also notoriously high in fat, refined carbs, sodium, and calories. Consider the Triple Bacon Pub Cheeseburger from Wendy’s, for example. Delicious? Yes. High-protein? At 89 grams, absolutely. However, it also clocks a staggering 1,520 calories in one sitting. Woof.
The trick is finding high-protein items that feature better ingredients and macros. Fat and carbs aren’t always the enemy; but, in the case of fast food, they often come from refined sources rather than healthy sources (think: vegetable oil, french fries, and burger buns versus avocado, veggies, and whole grains). Healthy, high-protein options do exist, but you’ll need to keep an eye on both the ingredients and macros to find them.
How to Choose Healthier, High-Protein Fast Food
You can order á la carte items or ditch half your meal to improve the macros, but we aren’t big fans of food waste, and neither is the planet. Plus, sometimes you just want to order a full meal without scratching all the ingredients that make it taste good. Here are some simple rules to instantly upgrade the nutrition profile of your fast food order.
- Skip the soda, or try a healthier alternative. Soda is loaded with sugar and empty calories. Plus, it’s associated with weight gain and a shorter lifespan (2, 3).
- Reach for items with at least 20 to 30 grams of protein. One review concluded that to maximize muscle growth, you should aim for 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per meal across four meals per day (4). If you weigh 175 pounds, that breaks down to about 32 grams of protein per meal.
- Order condiments and dressing on the side. They tend to pack sugar, salt, and refined oil. Using less can help cut an easy 100 to 300 calories.
The 20 Best High-Protein Fast Food Orders
Ranked in no particular order, here are some of the healthiest, high-protein fast food menu items from the most popular chains around.
1. In-n-Out Protein Style Double-Double (33g protein)
Per Serving: 520 calories, 33g protein, 11g carbs, 39g fat
If you’re looking for protein without the refined carbs, a lettuce-wrapped burger is always a solid choice. And In-N-Out’s protein-style double-double is arguably the best you can get. At 33 grams of protein and only 11 grams of carbs, it’s a great option for those following a low-carb or keto diet. Hot tip: Don’t skip the grilled onions.
2. ShakeShack Double Shack Burger, No Bun (51g protein)
Per Serving: 400 calories, 51g protein, 11g carbs, 48g fat
Whether you consider yourself more of a Smoke Stack or Chicken Stack person, Shake Shack offers a lettuce-wrapped option for any burger or sandwich on their menu. You simply won’t get higher protein than the Double Shack Burger, which packs an impressive 51 grams of protein.
3. McDonald’s McDouble (22g protein)
Per Serving: 400 calories, 22g protein, 33g carbs, 20g fat
Look, sometimes you just *need* a bun. Luckily, McDonald’s McDouble packs enough protein to balance out the macros. Or if you’re looking to stay as low-carb as it gets, pull a Max Lugavere and order the beef patties straight off the a la carte menu. You can get four beef patties for eight bucks and some change, which adds up to 880 calories, and 72 grams of protein.
4. McDonald’s McCrispy Chicken Sandwich (26g protein)
Per Serving: 470 calories, 26g protein, 46g carbs, 20g fat
When it comes to chicken, we reach for grilled options when they’re available, but at McDonald’s the pickings are slim. In the way of chicken sandwiches, the McCrispy offers the most protein at 26 grams. The McChicken may seem like a better bet with fewer total calories (400), but it only offers a disappointing 14 grams of protein.
5. Chick-Fil-A Cobb Salad with Grilled Fillet (36g protein)
Per Serving: 700 calories, 36g protein, 25g carbs, 51g fat
You can’t go wrong with any of Chick-Fil-A’s salads, but the classic Cobb Salad is number one in the protein department. We subbed the crispy nuggets it comes with for grilled chicken to cut the carbs (from 34g to 25g) and fat (from 61g to 51g), but the crispy nuggets actually have more protein—rounding out the meal to a total of 42 grams of protein.
6. Chick-Fil-A 12-Peice Grilled Nuggets (39g protein)
Per Serving: 200 calories, 38g protein, 2g carbs, 4.5g fat
If you needed more justification to order chicken nuggets, Chick-Fil-A’s grilled version packs 38 grams of protein per serving, putting them on par with your average chicken breast. Just keep in mind, the dipping sauce can easily add hundreds of calories (and sugar) to your meal, so choose wisely.
7. Chick-Fil-A Cool Wrap (43g protein)
Per Serving: 660 calories, 43g protein, 32g carbs, 45g fat
When you want something healthy and high-protein at Chick-Fil-A but are in the mood for something a little more substantial than plain nuggets or a salad, the Chick-Fil-A Cool Wrap is the go-to. While wraps at fast food joints tend to be a little sad, Chick-Fil-A stuffs theirs with a respectable amount of grilled chicken, lettuce, shredded cheese, and a dreamy Avocado Lime Ranch dipping sauce.
8. Chipotle Chicken Salad (45g protein)
Per Serving: 635 calories, 45g protein, 24g carbs, 26g fat
Chipotle’s mix-and-match style makes it easy to cater your meal to your health goals and taste buds. We used their nutrition calculator to build our ideal chicken salad: lettuce, chicken, black beans, corn, fajita veggies, and their addicting chipotle honey vinaigrette. Which comes out to 45 grams of protein. Ask for double chicken and the protein skyrockets to a whopping 72 grams.
9. Chipotle Steak Burrito Bowl (35g protein)
Per Serving: 725 calories, 35g protein, 68g fat, 36g carbs
A burrito bowl comes in clutch when you want some carbs (like before or after a workout) but don’t want to go ham with a tortilla—which literally adds 300 calories and 50 grams of carbs to your meal. We went with the steak which offers a little less protein than chicken, but still a solid amount at 35 grams for the whole bowl.
10. Wendy’s Apple Pecan Salad (32g protein)
Per Serving: 450 calories, 32g protein, 28g fat, 25g carbs
The combination of apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans, and blue cheese in this fall-inspired salad slaps any time of the year. Plus, you can’t argue with 32 grams of protein. Just take it easy on the dressing, it contains 15 grams of sugar in one small packet.
11. Wendy’s Grilled Asiago Chicken Ranch Club (40g protein)
Per Serving: 600 calories, 36g protein, 50g fat, 28g carbs
At 36 grams of protein, Wendy’s Asiago Chicken Ranch Club is the highest-protein menu item under 600 calories. If you’re looking for something a little lower in calories, go for the Grilled Chicken Wrap, it contains slightly less protein at 27 grams, but only 420 calories.
12. Taco Bell Steak Quesadilla (26g protein)
Per Serving: 520 calories, 26g protein, 42g carbs, 27g fat
If you simply can’t resist a Taco Bell Mexican Pizza, we get it. And at 19 grams of protein, it isn’t a terrible option. The quesadillas, however, are higher in protein. Whether you get chicken or steak, a single quesadilla brings in 26 grams of protein. PSA: Don’t sleep on the creamy jalapeño sauce. It’s probably (definitely) terrible for you, but worth every calorie.
13. Taco Bell Chicken Power Bowl (27g protein)
Per Serving: 460 calories, 27g protein, 41g carbs, 21g fat
Taco Bell offers little in the way of healthy menu items; however, you could do worse than their recently added Power Bowls. Each bowl packs grilled chicken, seasoned rice, black beans, lettuce, tomato, reduced-fat sour cream, guacamole, and ranch. As is, the bowl contains 27 grams of protein, but pass on the ranch and double the chicken and you’re looking at a protein fiesta.
14. Subway Grilled Chicken ‘No Bready’ Bowl (35g protein)
Per Serving: 200 calories, 35g protein, 9g carbs, 4g fat
Did you know you can order any Subway sandwich as a bowl? Each ‘No-Bready Bowl’ includes lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cucumbers, olives, and whatever meat comes on your sandwich of choice. The grilled chicken bowl is the highest in protein, clocking 35 grams of protein and only 200 calories. The calorie count doesn’t include the dressing but just ask for plain olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to keep it low.
15. Subway Buffalo Chicken Wrap (42g protein)
Per Serving: 560 calories, 42g protein, 56g carbs, 19g fat
If you refuse to ditch the bread, consider a wrap. Subway offers a handful of wraps that are all great choices for protein. The Buffalo Chicken Wrap leads the pack with 42 grams of high-quality protein per serving.
16. Starbucks Eggs and Cheddar Protein Box (23g protein)
Per serving: 470 calories, 23g protein, 40g carbs, 25g fat
You’d think Starbucks “protein boxes” would be an obvious pick for protein, but few of them offer 20 grams of protein (or complete sources of protein). Of all the protein boxes, Eggs and Cheddar will get you the most protein for the fewest calories.
17. Starbucks Spinach Feta and Egg White Wrap (20g protein)
Per Serving: 290 calories, 20g protein, 34g carbs, 8g fat
Our go-to for protein at breakfast—or, honestly any time of day—is the Spinach Feta and Egg White Wrap. At 20 grams of protein and only 290 calories, it makes for a solid snack or small meal. For something a little lower carb, the egg bites are a solid choice, with only 230 calories and 11 grams of carbs. However, at only 15 grams of protein, you might want to order two to bring up the protein content.
18. Panera Bread Deli Turkey Sandwich (35g protein)
Per Serving: 590 calories, 35g protein, 76g carbs, 17g fat
Buyer beware: No Panera Bread sandwich is for the low-carb crowd. At 76 grams of carbs, Panera’s Deli Turkey Sandwich falls in line with all the rest. That said, 35 grams of protein isn’t too shabby if you’re in the sandwich mood.
19. Panera Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken (39g protein)
Per Serving: 500 calories, 39g protein, 27g carbs, 28g fat
All of the salads at Panera are a quality source of protein, but the Green Goddess Cobb with Chicken is the highest at 39 grams. Here’s how it compares:
- Chicken Asian Sesame Salad: 410 calories, 27g protein
- Fuji Apple Chicken Salad: 560 calories, 27g protein
- Chicken Caesar Salad: 440 calories, 29g protein
- BBQ Chicken Salad: 510 calories, 32g protein
20. Panda Express Chicken Teriyaki (41g protein)
Per Serving: 340 calories, 41g protein, 14g carbs, 13g fat
With 41 grams of protein and just over 300 calories, the Chicken Teriyaki at Panda Express is one of the better sources of protein out there when it comes to fast food. But keep in mind, the nutrition plummets as you add on sides. Throwing some chow mein into the mix, for example, brings the protein up to 50 grams, but the carbs to a mammoth 94 grams.