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10 Best High-Protein Fast Food Meals to Choose – Nutrition – Health.com

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When it comes to a well-balanced diet, protein is often the star element. It’s essential to several biological processes and involved in many aspects of health.

The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight. Still, research continues to show that daily needs might be higher. While it depends on several factors, some individuals may need 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, and some may even require up to 2 g/kg.

Needing to eat on the go is common, but can you meet your protein needs at a drive-thru? Fast food often gets a bad rap, but it’s more than possible to enjoy a convenient meal while honoring your nutrition needs. Many fast-food restaurants offer protein-rich, nutrient-dense meals.

Here are ten high-protein fast-food meals that can help you reach your nutrition needs in a pinch.

While not all McDonald’s menu items can be regarded as high-protein meals, the Egg McMuffin can be. One Egg McMuffin contains 17 g of protein, constituting 22% of its calories. The protein comes from various ingredients, including the egg patty, Canadian bacon, and cheese slice.

While calories aren’t the end-all of nutritious meals, the Egg McMuffin is a reasonably low-calorie entree. At only 310 calories per sandwich, it can pair nicely with other nutrient-dense foods to complete a well-balanced meal. Still, be mindful of its sodium content, as each Egg McMuffin contains 770 milligrams (mg) of sodium.

Nutrition facts for one McDonald’s Egg McMuffin:

  • Calories: 310
  • Carbohydrates: 30 g
  • Protein: 17 g
  • Fat: 13 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Sodium: 770 mg

Unless it’s Sunday (when it’s closed), Chick-fil-A can be an excellent choice for high-protein meals on the go. While there are several options, the Cool Wrap is one of the highest in protein, at 43 g per serving. The entree piles sliced grilled chicken, shredded Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, and fresh lettuce onto flaxseed flour flatbread.

With 14 g of fiber and 45 g of fat per wrap, it’s likely to keep you feeling full between meals. However, it’s pretty high in sodium, with 1420 mg per serving. If you’re trying to watch your sodium intake, be selective when choosing a dressing for the wrap, and be mindful of the sodium content in any potential sides.

Nutrition facts for one Chick-fil-A Cool Wrap:

  • Calories: 660
  • Carbohydrates: 32 g
  • Protein: 43 g
  • Fat: 45 g
  • Fiber: 14 g
  • Sodium: 1420 mg

Few things are more convenient than chicken nuggets on the go, and Chick-fil-A offers a grilled option that helps you prioritize your protein intake. Grilled chicken nuggets are free from the breading typically found with fried nuggets, meaning they’re lower in carbs and fat.

An 8-count of Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Nuggets is just 130 calories and contains 25 g of protein. Need more protein? The 12-count provides 38 g of protein, while the 30-count provides a whopping 98 g. Grilled Nuggets can be enjoyed on their own or added to a salad or wrap when more nutrition is needed.

Nutrition facts for 8 Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets:

  • Calories: 130
  • Carbohydrates: 1 g
  • Protein: 25 g
  • Fat: 3 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sodium: 440 mg

When it comes to customizing fast-food meals, Chipotle’s options are endless. However, its Steak Burrito Bowl is a great protein-dense meal for those who need to boost their protein intake on the go. Each burrito bowl with a double portion of steak, brown rice or white rice, and black or pinto beans provides approximately 54 g of protein.

Chipotle also allows you to add toppings like cheese, queso, salsa, and vegetables. Of course, these toppings may change the nutrition profile of your meal, but they may also enhance your overall experience. Still, before adding toppings, be mindful of the sodium content, as each bowl provides 1060 mg of sodium.

Approximate nutrition facts for one Steak Burrito Bowl with a double portion of steak:

  • Calories: 640
  • Carbohydrates: 60 g
  • Protein: 54 g
  • Fat: 20 g
  • Fiber: 11 g
  • Sodium: 1060 mg

The Soft Chicken Taco from Taco Bell contains 12 g of protein per serving, primarily from the chicken and cheese. Each taco is just 160 calories, meaning 40% of its calories come from protein, making it a protein-dense option for on-the-go eating. One Soft Chicken Taco cannot be considered a full meal, so pair it with other nutrient-dense foods to better meet your nutrition needs.

Nutrition facts for one Soft Chicken Taco:

  • Calories: 160
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Fat: 5 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Sodium: 510 mg

Starbucks is best known for its coffee selection, but its menu also offers an array of foods, including its Turkey Bacon, Cheddar, and Egg White Sandwich. If you’re looking for a protein-rich breakfast option to eat on the go, this sandwich contains 17 grams of protein per serving. It combines an egg white patty with uncured turkey bacon and reduced-fat cheddar cheese, all on a wheat English muffin.

Unfortunately, the breakfast sandwich is high in sodium, with 560 mg per serving. And since it’s a pre-made food item, customers cannot make substitutions to reduce the sodium content. Keep this in mind with your sodium intake throughout the rest of the day.

Nutrition facts for one Turkey Bacon, Cheddar, and Egg White Sandwich:

  • Calories: 230
  • Carbohydrates: 28 g
  • Protein: 17 g
  • Fat: 5 g
  • Sodium: 560 mg

It can be challenging to find vegetarian-friendly, protein-rich meals at fast-food chains. Burger King’s Impossible Whopper is said to mirror the flavor of its meat-based Whopper burger, but it’s made from plant-based protein sources, including soy protein and potato protein.

Each Impossible Whopper contains 30 g of protein, 17% of its total calories. Surprisingly, it’s fairly high in saturated fat, almost 12 g per serving. And it contains 1556 mg of sodium, more than half of the recommended daily intake.

Nutrition facts for one Impossible Whopper:

  • Calories: 630
  • Carbohydrates: 58 g
  • Protein: 25 g
  • Fat: 34 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Sodium: 1080 mg

Panera Bread’s menu boasts a wide variety of meals, providing customers with various nutritious options. Its Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli Bowl is a filling meal rich in protein and several other nutrients. One bowl contains 46 g of protein, which accounts for 30% of the dish’s total calories. Chicken thigh meat is the primary source of protein, but some of the protein also comes from plant-based sources like brown rice and quinoa.

This dish is higher in carbs than others on this list, with 69 g per serving, which may be a factor for those watching their blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, Panera’s Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli Bowl is extremely high in sodium, with 1630 mg per serving. Considering this is more than half of the recommended daily sodium intake, this dish may not work for everyone.

Nutrition facts for one serving of Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli Bowl:

  • Calories: 610
  • Carbohydrates: 69 g
  • Protein: 46 g
  • Fat: 17 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Sodium: 1630 mg

If you’re in the mood for a refreshing salad, Wendy’s Cobb Salad provides an impressive 37 g of protein per serving from various sources. It’s made with grilled chicken, bacon, eggs, and shredded cheddar cheese. For added flavor and experience, pair it with a delicious salad dressing of your choosing.

This Cobb Salad is relatively low in calories before adding a dressing, but it tends to be high in sodium—one salad contains 1280 mg of sodium. It’s important to remember that even dishes made with fresh fruits and vegetables can have ingredients that boost their sodium content.

Nutrition facts for one Wendy’s Cobb Salad, with dressing:

  • Calories: 670
  • Carbohydrates: 18 g
  • Protein: 37 g
  • Fat: 49 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Sodium: 1280 mg

Wendy’s is often celebrated for its burger options, and if you’re looking for a protein-packed entree, they might be up to the task. Wendy’s has an array of burger options, but Dave’s Single hamburger offers a moderate amount of protein with the lowest amount of saturated fat.

Saturated fat, found in animal fats, can increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) levels and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. One Dave’s Single burger provides 32 g of protein and 13 g of saturated fat.

Unfortunately, the burger exceeds the recommended sodium intake, as it contains 3,200 mg of sodium. So, while this meal provides an impressive amount of protein, it may not work for everyone.

Nutrition facts for one Wendy’s Dave’s Single:

  • Calories: 611
  • Carbohydrates: 39 g
  • Protein: 32 g
  • Fat: 36 g
  • Fiber: 1.7 g
  • Sodium: 3200 mg

Fast-food chain restaurants have more options now than ever before. If you need to pack in the protein but are on the go, plenty of convenient options exist. While nutrition needs vary between individuals, there are a few factors to consider when choosing a fast-food meal.

  • Check the nutrition information: Fast food restaurants provide the nutrition facts for their menu items. Utilize this information to find a meal that best fits your needs.
  • Focus on balance: Be mindful of the macronutrient ratio. When possible, try to include lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
  • Keep track of your sodium intake: Many fast food entrees contain significant amounts of sodium that may exceed the recommended daily intake.
  • Opt for grilled over fried: Choose non-fried options when possible to limit your intake of unhealthy fats.
  • Consider how filling menu items are: Choose foods that leave you satisfied after eating them.
  • Be mindful of extras: Consider sauces, dips, and toppings, which may contribute to excessive intake of macro or micronutrients.
  • Practice moderation: Perhaps choose a smaller-sized meal and add a side salad or other more nutrient-rich option.

Most people don’t equate fast food with healthy, nutritious meals, but they can fit into a well-balanced lifestyle when incorporated mindfully. Many chain restaurants offer nutrient-dense menu items, including high-protein entrees. Traveling on the road or running late between appointments isn’t cause for concern.

Opting for a convenient meal on the go can help you meet your estimated nutrition needs and keep you from skipping meals altogether. A registered dietitian can help you navigate the many factors that play a role in a nutritious diet, including eating on the go.

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