If you’re trying to eat healthy, fast food is probably not your first choice of meal. All that grease, all those fried foods—it’s a safe assumption that eating fast food every day would not help with your weight loss goals. But maybe you’re on the road, and you can’t bring a salad with you. Or you’re really craving a cheeseburger, but you want to make sure you pick the healthier option. We did some research for you, and found out which fast food chains have the least calories in their meals.
Cheap Food With High Calories
In an ideal world, we’d cook an elaborate spread for every meal. But fast food is sometimes the only option. According to the National Academy of Medicine, adults should aim for a daily minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 7 grams for every 20 pounds. That means you’ll want approximately 20 grams per meal, give or take, to stay in the suggested range. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurant chains with options that offer a boost of satisfying protein (and not just refined carbs). From a McDonald’s McDouble to Starbucks’s convenient protein boxes, here are the 15 best high-protein fast food meals at some of the most popular chains around.
1. MCDONALD’S MCDOUBLE
Per serving: 400 calories, 20g fat, 33g carbs, 2g fiber, 7g sugar and 22g protein
We get it: Sometimes a salad just won’t cut it. Luckily, McDonald’s McDouble, (aka two beef patties, American cheese, pickles, ketchup, onion and mustard) is relatively low in calories and carbs considering the amount of protein it offers. If you want, you can nix the cheese and lose 50 calories and 4 grams of fat.
2. ARBY’S ROAST CHICKEN ENTRÉE SALAD
Per serving: 250 calories, 14g fat, 8g carbs, 3g fiber, 4g sugar and 25g protein
While many fast-food salads are just chicken nuggets on a bed of lettuce masquerading as health, Arby’s offers a version with grilled chicken. Pepper bacon, tomato, cheddar and ranch dressing round things out for a filling lunch (or dinner).
3. CHICK-FIL-A LEMON KALE CAESAR
Per serving: 470 calories, 24g fat, 22g carbs, 0g fiber, 8g sugar and 43g protein
Another high-protein salad option is Chick-Fil-A’s rendition of a kale Caesar. Shaved Parmesan, panko breadcrumbs and fresh lemon wedges make it feel very 2021.
4. WENDY’S APPLE PECAN SALAD
Per serving: 460 calories, 23g fat, 26g carbs, 5g fiber, 18g sugar and 39g protein
The combination of apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans and crumbled blue cheese feels a little bit ’90s and we are so into it. Go easy on the dressing if you want to keep the amount of sugar to a minimum.
5. CHIPOTLE SALAD WITH CHICKEN, FAJITA VEGETABLES AND ROASTED CHILI-CORN SALSA
Per serving: 295 calories, 8.5g fat, 24g carbs, 6g fiber, 7g sugar and 37g protein
TBH, Chipotle’s menu is all about mixing and matching, so it’s one of the easiest restaurants to find a healthy option. But to make it even simpler, we suggest swapping your usual burrito bowl for a salad (no rice equals less carbs) and adding the just-sweet-enough corn salsa in place of the dressing.
NHAT V. MEYER/DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA/THE MERCURY NEWS VIA GETTY IMAGES
6. SHAKE SHACK SHACKBURGER (LETTUCE WRAP)
Per serving: 320 calories, 24g fat, 2g carbs, 0g fiber, 1g sugar and 21g protein
At Shake Shack, you can ask for any sandwich on the menu to be served in a lettuce wrap instead of the usual bun. While this won’t add any protein, it will reduce the amount of carbohydrates by 24 grams—worth it if you’re watching your carb intake.
7. SUBWAY 6-INCH OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN SUB
Per serving: 270 calories, 4.5g fat, 41g carbs, 5g fiber, 8g sugar and 21g protein
Subway’s Fresh Fit menu includes items with higher amounts of protein, plus 400 calories or fewer and two servings of vegetables. To maximize the nutrition factor, pile your sandwich high with alllll the veggies.
8. MCDONALD’S MCCHICKEN
Per serving: 400 calories, 21g fat, 39g carbs, 1g fiber, 5g sugar and 14g protein
FYI, McDonald’s has reduced its menu since COVID-19, but the brand still serves the OG McChicken. Hold the mayo, and you’ll shave off 100 cals and 11 grams of fat.
9. STARBUCKS CHICKPEA BITES AND AVOCADO PROTEIN BOX
Per serving: 560 calories, 37g fat, 43g carbs, 13g fiber, 7g sugar and 15g protein
Meatless fast-food meals that still contain a decent amount of protein are few and far between, but this Starbucks option is fully plant-based and has 15 grams of the good stuff. It’s also high in fiber to keep you feeling full longer.
10. STARBUCKS GRILLED CHICKEN AND HUMMUS PROTEIN BOX
Per serving: 300 calories, 9g fat, 32g carbs, 7g fiber, 6g sugar and 22g protein
Another high-protein item at the popular coffee chain is the grilled chicken and hummus box, which contains 22 grams of protein and only 9 grams of fat.
11. CHICK-FIL-A 3-PIECE GRILLED NUGGETS
Per serving: 130 calories, 3g fat, 1g carbs, 1g fiber, 0g sugar and 51g protein
Confession: We love chicken nuggets. Who doesn’t? Chick-Fil-A’s grilled version contains 25 grams of protein in an eight-piece serving but only 3 grams of fat (compared to 11 grams in the fried kind).
12. TACO BELL SOFT TACO
Per serving: 180 calories, 9g fat, 17g carbs, 3g fiber, 1g sugar and 9g protein
Taco Bell is currently serving a slightly limited menu due to COVID, but the traditional ground beef soft taco has a good ratio of protein to everything else, even if you order two to make it a more filling meal.
Highest Protein Fast Food Options
If you’re following a high-protein diet, fast food may not seem like the greatest choice.
But you might be surprised to see that there are actually some great options out there for ya!
I don’t want to try to direct you towards the “healthiest” item at every fast food restaurant, because we all define healthy differently.
Instead, let’s look strictly at which items have the most protein to help you hit your protein goals.
We’ll look at two options for high protein fast food:
1) The menu item with the highest protein overall. This is usually packed with calories as well.
2) The highest protein for a menu item under 500 calories. If you want to maximize your protein but don’t want to consume a ton of calories, looking at options under 500 calories will help keep you on track.
Highest Protein McDonald’s Menu Item
Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese
740 Calories, 42g Fat, 43g Carbs, 48g Protein
This burger from McDonald’s is not necessary the “healthiest” option out there, but it’s the highest protein item that McDonald’s currently offers on their menu. I was surprised to find that a Big Mac actually contains much less protein, with only 25g of protein overall (with 550 calories).
Highest Protein McDonald’s Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Quarter Pounder With Cheese (No Ketchup)
500 Calories, 26g Fat, 38g Carbs, 30g Protein
If you go with the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but leave out the condiments, it’ll leave you with exactly 500 calories and 30g of protein. Believe it or not, this burger actually contains more well-rounded nutrition than a chicken sandwich.
If you order a McChicken, it contains 400 calories but only 14g of protein- less than HALF of the quarter pounder!
Highest Protein Burger King Menu Item
2,100 Calories, 93g Fat, 52g Carbs, 70g Protein
Burger King takes the crown of having the single highest calorie item of any fast food chain. The Bacon King is listed on the Burger King website as having over 2,000 calories! The Bacon King contains a full half-pound of beef, cheese, a “hearty portion of thick-cut bacon,” ketchup, and mayonnaise.
Technically speaking, this item contains the most protein, but considering the calories, it’s really not a great choice for your protein intake, considering it contains 93g of fat, 40g of which are saturated fat.
Let’s look at an option that’s a bit lower-calorie…
Highest Protein Burger King Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Bacon Double Cheeseburger
390 Calories, 21g Fat, 27g Carbs, 24g Protein
Much like at McDonald’s, the double cheeseburger from Burger King will get you the most protein under 500 calories. However, the protein total is not all that impressive. If you break down the full Burger King menu, you’ll actually find that Burger King has some of the lowest-protein options, so it may not be great for a high-protein diet.
Highest Protein Wendy’s Menu Item
Big Bacon Triple
1,220 Calories, 86g Fat, 38g Carbs, 75g Protein
The Big Bacon Tripe from Wendy’s is a massive burger, so it comes as no surprise that it’s the highest protein item on the menu. I’ll let the Wendy’s website explain this one to ya: “Three quarters of a pound* of fresh, never-frozen beef, Applewood smoked bacon, American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, pickle, ketchup, mayo, and onion on a toasted bun.”
Highest Protein Wendy’s Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Grilled Asiago Ranch Chicken Club
490 Calories, 21g Fat, 34g Carbs, 40g Protein
Wendy’s is one of the few fast food chains with a grilled chicken sandwich option, and it clocks in as the highest-protein item under 500 calories.
If you want to go with even lower calories, go for the Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich. That sandwich contains only 350 calories and still packs 33g of quality protein.
Chick-fil-A is one of the best fast food restaurants out there if eating high-protein is your goal. By using lean white-meat chicken in most of their menu items, most of the options are actually low calorie and very high in protein.
Highest Protein Chick-fil-A Menu Item
Chick-fil-A® Cool Wrap
350 Calories, 12g Fat, 29g Carbs, 42g Protein
The Cool Wrap is made up of grilled chicken, lettuce, and shredded cheese. On its own, it is rather low calorie, but be mindful of the dressing it comes with. If you pair the wrap with the Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing, it will add an additional 310 calories!
Highest Protein Chick-fil-A Menu Item Under 300 Calories
12 Piece Grilled Nuggets
200 Calories, 4.5g Fat, 2g Carbs, 38g Protein
If you follow a low carb or keto diet, the grilled chicken nuggets are going to be your go-to order. A 12-piece is only 200 calories and 38g of protein, on-par with any grilled chicken breast.
Much like the cool wrap, be mindful of the dipping sauce you choose. Depending on what you pair your nuggets with, you can easily add hundreds of calories to your meal.
Highest Protein Taco Bell Menu Item
Cheesy Gordita Crunch with Extra Grilled Chicken
520 Calories, 26g Fat, 40g Carbs, 32g Protein
In recent years, Chipotle has stolen the crown from Taco Bell when it comes to Mexican food. When it comes to customizing your order and maximizing the nutrition, it’s tough to do better than Chipotle.
But many people don’t realize how customizable Taco Bell is, too! You can make plenty of substitutions to your order to make the most of the nutrition. If you order a Cheesy Gordita Crunch with Grilled Chicken and ask for extra protein, you’ll be getting in 32g of protein! Not bad at all.