- You could drive 25 minutes home, enjoy your 5 minutes of free time (lunch), then rush to your car for the return drive back to work.
- You could stop at a local grocery store, pick up sandwich ingredients, come back to work, assemble your sandwich and store the leftovers in the lunch room.
- You could go through the drive-thru at McDonalds, come back to work, and get caught up while you scarf down your meal.
We wrote this post for times you choose the third option. Nearly everybody has a natural hesitation and sense of guilt they experience when they order fast food. You know you could be making a healthier choice, but still, you allow yourself to indulge on the convenience.
There’s nothing wrong with using fast food strategically as long as you’re familiar with both the upside (convenience) and the downside (see below).
The purpose of this article is to highlight fast food meals high in protein and steer the reader away from empty calories. You may be surprised how many different fast food orders will fit into your diet.
By the end of this article the reader will have all of the information necessary to make healthier choices when ordering fast food.
Table of Contents
- Why Fast Food Sucks
- How to Make Any Fast Food Order Healthier
- How Was the Research Conducted?
- The Highest Protein Fast Food Meals
- Healthy Fast Food Breakfast
- Which Restaurant Has the Most High Protein Menu Items
- High Calorie/Low Calorie High Protein Fast Food
- The Raw Data
- Low Carb, High Protein Fast Food
Why Fast Food Sucks
Fast food restaurants toe the line between food quality and affordability just enough to avoid trouble. This is a concerning contrast between your own intentions of finding a high quality food source.
Fast food typically lacks fiber, contains a lot of sodium, and is micro-nutrient deficient. Not to mention the quality of ingredients are highly questionable.
On top of all this it’s not very satiating. You will probably be hungry again soon after completing your meal.
Like most things in life you will probably be fine if you moderate. Regardless, we felt responsible to include this disclaimer.
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” – Oscar Wilde
5 Tricks To Instantly Make Any Order Healthier
Before we dive in the data we want to share 5 high impact tips you can apply to any order, anywhere, to enjoy a healthier meal.
The secret to eating healthier is to avoid empty calories. Empty calories are foods consisting primarily of solid fats and added sugars. These foods provide energy (calories) but very little nutritional benefit (protein, vitamins, etc). Example: chocolate bar, donuts, cake.
The average fast food restaurant is home to dozens of menu items made up of empty calories. We found hundreds of empty calorie menu items in our research. Avoid ordering empty calories and you will instantly make your order considerably healthier:
- Skip the soda. Choose a diet drink if you refuse to lose the bubbles but don’t want the calories and carbs that come with them. Substituting a medium coke for a diet alternative (or water) saves you 200 calories (55 carbohydrates).
- Forget the fries. Leaving medium fries out of your next order saves you 340 empty calories (16g fat, 4g protein, 44g carbohydrates) – that’s pretty significant.
- Choose your salad dressing carefully. Wendy’s offers 5 different salad dressings ranging from 90 calories to 220 calories… those are empty calories coming exclusively from the dressing.
- Remove toppings you don’t love. The biggest impact on most sandwiches can be found removing mayo. Taking mayo off of a Wendy’s burger saves 60 calories and 6g fat. Just like that.
- Choose the chicken. 9 out of the 10 highest protein fast food meals (shown below) contain chicken as their primary ingredient. Grilled chicken is especially low calorie, if you’re looking for that kind of thing.
That’s 820 calories in tips. Using tips 1, 2, and 4 cuts 600 calories (22g fat, 4g protein, 99g carbohydrates) from your order at Wendy’s. Not to mention the money you save by choosing a “sandwich only” option instead of a combo.
Finding The Food: How We Did It
Our mission was to find the highest protein fast food across all of the most popular fast restaurants across the United States and Canada.
We collected our data by copying publicly available nutritional information (specifically calories & macro-nutrients; fats, carbohydrates, protein) from the most popular fast food franchises into a master spreadsheet. The “protein (g) per 100 calories” metric was then added to help identify the meals most dense in protein.
It was interesting seeing how the public nutritional information varied from company to company. For example, Wendy’s includes salad dressing and croutons in their salad calculations, while KFC does not. Considering salad dressings can add over 300 calories to a salad – often blindly considered a healthy low calorie item – information like this is vital.
Taco Bell makes a point of showing a huge number of variations (chicken/steak/beef/veggies) for a large part of their 100+ item menu which we imagine is very helpful for the curious dieter, but very unfortunate for the person manually entering all of those items into a spreadsheet.
It is important to seek out the fine print when relying on nutritional information you perceive as accurate. We’ve included the fine print for all of our research in this article (to our knowledge) and will mention these details when relevant throughout this page.
There are a few ways the data in this post could prove inaccurate:
- Author error. Manually copying nutritional information for over 700 menu items from 10+ different websites all with different layouts and font sizes could result in a couple typos. If you see one, please point it out so we can fix it immediately.
- Server error. Many new-age fast food chains are adopting an under-promise, over-deliver type policy. This tends to result in generous portion sizes being given with good intent by your server, but the nutritional information provided by the company doesn’t represent the extra generosity.
We’ve gone over our research and checked it twice but we are still human. Trust us at your own risk.
Top 10 Fast Food Meals Highest in Protein
- Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken + Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette by McDonalds. 305 calories, 10.5g fat, 23g carbs, 32g protein/10.49g per 100 calories.
- Grilled Chicken BLT Salad + Light Italian Dressing by Dairy Queen. 400 calories, 20g fat, 11g carbs, 42g protein/10.5g per 100 calories.
- Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap by Chic-Fil-A. 340 calories, 13g fat, 30g carbs, 36g protein/10.58g per 100 calories.
- Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken +Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette by McDonalds. 345 calories, 15.5g fat, 14g carbs, 38g protein/11g per 100 calories.
- Original Recipe Chicken Breast by KFC. 320 calories, 14g fat, 13g carbs, 37g protein/11.56g per 100 calories.
- 6″ Steak, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Sub by Subway. 216 calories, 15g fat, 47 carbs, 28g protein/96g per 100 calories.
- Grilled Chicken Garden Greens Salad+ Light Italian Dressing by Dairy Queen. 170 calories, 3g fat, 10g carbs, 23g protein/13.5g per 100 calories.
- Blackened Tenders (3 pieces) by Popeyes. 170 calories, 2g fat, 2g carbs, 26g protein/15.3g per 100 calories.
- Grilled Nuggets (8 pieces) by Chic-Fil-A.140 calories, 3g fat, 4g carbs, 23g protein/16.6g per 100 calories.
- Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast (1 piece) by KFC. 220 calories, 7g fat, 0g carbs, 40g protein/18.2g per 100 calories.
Here is some fine print we want to bring to your attention regarding some items purposely left out of this list:
- Our data shows that KFC’s Original Recipe Chicken Breast without skin or breading should be #1. Because we couldn’t find any information (pictures, reviews, comments… anything) on this item outside of the restaurant’s nutrition sheet we left it out.
- KFC’s Kentucky Grilled Chicken Drumstick, Kentucky Grilled Chicken Whole Wing, and Kentucky Grilled Thigh would have all placed in the top 5, but were left out for sake of avoiding redundancy. KFC’s grilled chicken is high in protein. We get it.
- We also excluded Subway’s 6″ Black Forest Ham, Egg and Cheese breakfast sandwich, as well as their 6″ Egg and Cheese sandwich for this same reason. They would have placed 7th and 8th respectively.
- Chipotle’s 4oz chicken, 4oz steak, 4oz barbacoa, and 4oz carnitas were left out because they are just ingredients. That said the least protein dense out of them (carnitas) provides 10.95g protein per 100 calories. Good stuff.
- Finally, all the salads have had dressings added to their totals by us. This can be deceiving because we used the lowest calorie dressing for each salad. When you order a “Premium Bacon Ranch” salad you expect ranch dressing, not low fat balsamic vinaigrette. Please note the dressing specified in each of the salads listed to avoid confusion.
- Because we added the lowest calorie dressing to the restaurant items which don’t already add dressings to their nutritional information (Dairy Queen, McDonalds) it may be unfair that the restaurants that naturally include dressing (Wendys, Burger King) are left out for honestly including their natural dressing instead of handpicking the lowest calorie dressing. Keep this in mind.
Bonus: Top 3 Healthy Fast Food Breakfast Spots
- Subway. We found 8 breakfast items on Subway’s menu and 6 of them contain greater than 6.2 gram of protein per 100 calories. The other 2 items aren’t far off at 5.9g, and 5.7g per 100 calories.
- Tim Hortons. Canadian’s rejoice! Tim Horton’s has 7 breakfast items with 6 grams of protein per 100 calories or greater. Choose anything with egg white and turkey sausage for highest protein per calorie ratio.
- McDonalds. It should be noted there is a pretty big gap between McDonalds and the previously mentioned restaurants. After Subway/Tim Hortons the list begins to bounce around across many different restaurants without much consistency. The Egg White Delight McMuffin and the Steak, Egg, and Cheese McMuffin are the 2 items 6g protein/100 calories on the McDonalds breakfast menu.
High Protein Fast Food Near You
This graph shows the amount of menu items from each fast food restaurant that contain 5.95 grams of protein per 100 calories or more. Follow the X axis left to right while reading the legend to get an idea of how each restaurant scored.
It should be noted that this graph favors restaurants with a large menu because it does not reveal how many low protein options each restaurants offers.
For example, McDonalds scored a 14 but has nearly 50 menu items low in protein. In-N-Out scored only a 2, but has a menu of only 10 items. Therefore this graph offers insight into how many high protein options a restaurant offers but not an overall idea into the average amount of protein per menu item.
The Best High Protein Fast Food For your Diet
To give you a better idea of what high protein options are available we’ve highlighted the best high protein orders from the most popular fast food restaurants across the United States.
These selections were made by taking the data presented above and sorting by highest protein (grams) per 100 calories. We then chose a low calorie/high protein option for weight loss, and a high calorie/high protein option for weight gain.
Choosing items that qualified as “high calorie” and “low calorie” was a completely subjective process made relative to each menu. There was no global number used to define “high” or “low” across all of the restaurants.
Here are the highest protein fast food meals you can order across the country:
The Raw data
Here it is: the master spreadsheet of high protein fast food, sorted by highest protein (grams) per 100 calories.
Unfortunately Google Sheets does not allow us to embed sortable spreadsheets, so we’re left with a result that is a little awkward and uncomfortable. It should be noted that all measurements of carbs, fats, and protein are in grams (g).
We’re sending out copies of our master file, which includes the low carb sheet, and the high protein breakfast sheet, to all new subscribers to our email list. We email our subscribers once a week (at most) with a roundup of our new content.
Low Carb, High Protein Fast Food
We know there are a lot of people interested in low carb fast food options when they’re on the go. This table was made by deleting all items with more than 30g of carbohydrates right off the bat and then deleting all items with less than 6g protein per 100 calories.
As mentioned above, this sheet is included in the master file. Here’s what we got:
Click here to skip this section.
Nutritional information was taken from the official website for each respective restaurant:
- Burger King (PDF)
- Dairy Queen (PDF)
- Five Guys
- In-N-Out (PDF)
- Starbucks (PDF)
- Taco Bell
- Tim Hortons (PDF)
Enjoy Your Meal
We hope you learned something new from our guide to high protein fast food. We’re openly accepting tips on any fast food hacks you’ve used to make your order healthier. Let us know in the comments below and we’ll edit the best contributions into this post.
You can share this article via the colorful social icons below this post. We are open to adding other popular fast food restaurants for the next week or so before we move onto another article. Leave a comment below with your favorite missing restaurant and we’ll take a look.