If you’re following a high-protein diet, fast food may not seem like the greatest choice, but I’m here to show you that there are plenty of options out there for you.
- The most protein in a single fast food menu item is the 36-piece chicken nuggets at KFC with 1,260 calories and 108 grams of protein.
- The best fast food protein source under 500 calories is a bowl from Subway. Bowls contain twice as much meat as salads, maximizing the protein content.
- Grilled chicken sandwiches can be a great source of protein, but they are currently not available at Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or KFC.
I don’t want to try to direct you towards the “healthiest” item at every fast food restaurant, because we all define healthy differently. For you, healthy fast food might mean that a food is grilled, but for someone else, a healthy option might be anything that is lower carb.
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.
These options all contain over 500 calories (and some of them over 1,000 calories) so they aren’t necessarily good sources of protein. But if weight gain is the goal, these options can certainly help.
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.
Important note: high protein doesn’t mean it’s a good source of protein
I just want to be very clear with this post that I’m simply pointing out some options you can order, but they aren’t necessarily the greatest sources of protein.
For example, one of the higher protein items at McDonald’s is the crispy chicken sandwich, which contains 470 calories and 26g of protein.
Is that a bad protein source? No, 26g of protein is pretty solid. But for almost 500 calories (when ordered with sauce), it’s certainly not an amazing protein source, either.
You can get more bang for your protein buck by making some substitutions at fast food restaurants, which we’ll also get into a bit below.
McDonald’s burgers and fries have stood the test of time, but if you’re trying to eat high-protein, are there good options to choose from? While McDonald’s may not be the most macro-friendly fast food choice, there are options…
You can find my full McDonald’s menu nutrition guide here.
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 necessarily 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 contains much less protein, with only 25g of protein overall (and 550 calories).
Even a Double Big Mac (which has 4 beef patties) has only 40 grams of protein, which is way less than I would have guessed.
Highest Protein McDonald’s Menu Item Under 500 Calories
McCrispy Chicken Sandwich
With Butter (ordered as-is): 470 Calories, 20g Fat, 46g Carbs, 26g Protein
Without Butter: 420 Calories, 15g Fat, 46g Carbs, 26g Protein
You would expect that a fried chicken sandwich would have more protein, but when there’s breading involved, you end up not getting much less actual chicken compared to something like a grilled chicken sandwich. Still, this is one of the better protein options at McDonald’s!
If you opt for the McCrispy Chicken Sandwich without any butter, you’ll save yourself 50 calories, which you can use towards extra condiments or sides.
High-Protein Burger King
Burger King does burgers as good as anyone else (I mean, it’s right in the name) but those burgers aren’t necessarily protein-packed. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few solid options.
You can find my full Burger King menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Burger King Menu Item
Triple Whopper With Cheese
1,300 Calories, 90g Fat, 60g Carbs, 78g Protein
Burger King has a fair amount of high-protein menu items, but that tends to be accompanied by a ton of calories. The Triple Whopper is certainly no exception.
The Triple Whopper with cheese is the most protein you’ll find at Burger King with a whopping (pun intended) 78g of protein. To be fair, that comes with over 1,000 calories, which is quite high, but technically speaking, it is the highest protein item.
If you’re feeling hungry and don’t want to sacrifice your Triple Whopper, ordering without cheese will save you roughly 200 calories.
Highest Protein Burger King Menu Item Under 500 Calories
BK Royal Crispy Chicken
With Royal Sauce (ordered as-is): 600 Calories, 33g Fat, 54g Carbs, 31g Protein
Without Royal Sauce: 440 Calories, 15g Fat, 54g Carbs, 31g Protein
When ordered without Royal Sauce, the BK Royal Crispy Chicken is a solid source of protein.
In fact, it contains nearly the same amount of calories as a McChicken from McDonald’s, but with an extra 5 grams of protein.
If you want to dress up your chicken sandwich without the 160 extra calories from the Royal Sauce, opt for a lower-calorie condiment such as mustard, ketchup, or hot sauce.
Wendy’s is one of the few fast food restaurants that regularly features salads, so if you’re in search of a macro-friendly option, Wendy’s should always be at the top of your list.
You can find my full Wendy’s menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Wendy’s Menu Item
Big Bacon Classic Triple
1,220 Calories, 86g Fat, 38g Carbs, 75g Protein
Wendy’s tends to rotate through a lot of limited-edition burgers, and they tend to top the protein charts whenever they are released because they are loaded with calories.
The Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple Cheeseburger from Wendy’s was a massive burger that was previously featured here, but today we’re looking at a menu staple: the Big Bacon Classic Triple.
I’ll let the Wendy’s website explain this one to you: “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. It’s big. It’s classic. It’s got bacon.”
In other words: this burger is absolutely massive.
Now, is it delicious? Probably. And considering it contains 75 grams of protein, it may be tempting to try. But if you want a much lower calorie option, I’ve got you covered…
Highest Protein Wendy’s Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Without Dressing: 420 Calories, 23g Fat, 16g Carbs, 36g Protein
With Dressing: 670 Calories, 49g Fat, 18g Carbs, 37g Protein
When I first wrote this article, I was excited to list Wendy’s grilled chicken sandwich here, because they were one of the only fast food restaurants to offer grilled chicken.
Then Wendy’s decided to pull the rug out from under all of us and removed grilled chicken sandwiches years ago. I was hoping they’d make a comeback, but I’m still waiting.
Now, your best bet for high-protein at Wendy’s is to go with the cobb salad. Granted, it’s a much better protein source without dressing, but there is so much on this salad that you may not need dressing at all.
The ranch dressing it comes with will add 250 calories, so be mindful of that.
The Parmesan Caesar Salad and Apple Pecan Salad are both awesome options as well- each salad comes to 540 calories with 32 grams of protein (with dressing included). They may take the crown as being better protein sources overall, especially when you remove the dressing, but they still do not contain as much protein as the cobb salad.
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 low calorie and very high in protein. If you need macro-friendly choices, Chick-fil-A has you covered.
You can find my full Chick-fil-A menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Chick-fil-A Menu Item
30 Piece Grilled Nuggets
510 Calories, 11g Fat, 4g Carbs, 98g Protein
Odds are that you are not polishing off 30 Chick-fil-A nuggets (no judgment from me if you are, though) but I thought it’d be fun to include it here as it contains 100 grams of protein. If you want to get a ton of protein in, this is an absolutely amazing option.
Of course, Chick-fil-A nuggets are nothing without dipping sauce, so the calories could quickly add up there if you are dipping 30 nuggets into a sauce.
If you want to go with the regular fried chicken nuggets, those also contain 100 grams of protein, but come with nearly double the calories (950 calories) so they are not nearly as good of a protein source.
Highest Protein Chick-fil-A Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Chick-fil-A® Cool Wrap
Without Dressing: 350 Calories, 12g Fat, 29g Carbs, 42g Protein
With Dressing: 660 Calories, 44g Fat, 32g Carbs, 43g 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 to this wrap, which is essentially doubling the total calories.
My recommendation is always to keep the dressing on the side and just sparingly dip a fork into the dressing to then add to your wrap as you eat it. You’ll end up using significantly less dressing overall, likely 100 calories worth, and maximize your calories that way.
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, 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.
High-Protein Taco Bell
Taco Bell is one of those places where you are almost ordering multiple items (like multiple tacos) so the protein will vary wildly based on the quantity of your order. For this guide, I’m simply looking at single items that are available on the Taco Bell menu.
You can find my full Taco Bell menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Taco Bell Menu Item
Chicken Grilled Cheese Burrito
Ordered As-Is: 690 Calories, 37g Fat, 62g Carbs, 29g Protein
With Extra Chicken: 740 Calories, 39g Fat, 62g Carbs, 37g Protein
Asking for extra meat is an easy way to increase the protein of any menu item at Taco Bell. With the chicken grilled cheese burrito, extra chicken will bring the protein content up to nearly 40 grams.
If the 740 calories are too high, you can always ask for no sour cream and nacho cheese, which will save you roughly 100 calories.
Honorable Mention: Chicken or Steak Quesadilla
520 Calories, 26g Fat, 41g Carbs, 26g Protein
With 26 grams of protein, the quesadillas from Taco Bell might not feel very impressive, but considering the calories are much lower than the grilled cheese burrito, they deserve a mention.
However, since you have the option for different types of meat, cheese, etc, there are much better ways to get your protein in at Taco Bell. I’ll give you a few options below!
Highest Protein Taco Bell Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Power Menu Bowl
460 Calories, 21g Fat, 41g Carbs, 27g Protein
The Taco Bell Power Bowl (essentially a burrito bowl) was added to the menu as a healthy option, and it does not disappoint. This bowl packs grilled chicken, seasoned rice, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, reduced-fat sour cream, guacamole, and ranch.
As-is, this bowl has just under 500 calories and 26g of protein, but it can be customized to really maximize the protein.
If you really want to get the most protein possible, here’s a costume order you can try…
Customized Taco Bell Order With The Most Protein
Power Bowl with extra grilled chicken, extra cheddar cheese, extra black beans, and no sauce
560 Calories, 23g Fat, 48g Carbs, 40g Protein
By customizing the power bowl, we can easily create an incredible source of protein at Taco Bell.
The main protein sources in this bowl are the chicken, cheese, and beans, so we’re going to ask for extra of all of those.
Then, to save some calories, I opted to leave off the Avocado Ranch Sauce and Sour Cream. With those included, this bowl would contain 610 calories, which is not a huge difference, so feel free to keep ’em in there.
Personally, I find the guacamole plus some fire sauce to be plenty of flavor for me, but to each their own.
Arby’s has the meats, so they must also have the protein, right? If you’re searching for a straightforward source of protein, Arby’s is ready for you.
Find my full Arby’s menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Arby’s Menu Item
Half Pound Roast Beef
610 Calories, 30g Fat, 38g Carbs, 48g Protein
Arby’s has the meats, that’s for sure. This half-pound sandwich is a real beast, weighing in at 610 calories, but also containing nearly 50g of protein.
Since that sandwich might be larger than you’re even able to consume, the classic roast beef might be a better choice for you with only 360 calories and 23g of protein.
When you choose a sandwich with lots of meat and no extra toppings or condiments, it’s easy to maximize your protein at Arby’s.
Highest Protein Arby’s Menu Item Under 500 Calories
9 Pc. Chicken Nuggets
470 Calories, 23g Fat, 28g Carbs, 38g Protein
In terms of protein, the premium chicken nuggets from Arby’s blow other options out of the water. With 38 grams of protein and under 500 calories, this is an extremely impressive fast-food protein option.
For comparison, a 10-piece chicken nugget order from McDonald’s contains just 23 grams of protein, and an 8-piece chicken nugget order from Burger King contains just 19 grams of protein.
Panera is known as a “healthy” fast-casual restaurant, but does that mean it’s a good option for high-protein diets? Well, it depends…
You can find my full Panera menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Panera Menu Item
Chicken & Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt
1,110 Calories, 41g Fat, 115g Carbs, 69g Protein
Many people are surprised to learn that Panera sandwiches are not low-calorie in a lot of cases. I’m not saying that Panera is unhealthy, but my first impression was that the sandwiches would all be under 500 calories, and that was not the case.
When it comes to ordering at Panera, the “you pick two” option is popular, where you order half a sandwich and half of either soup or salad, so that will bring the calories down quite a bit.
The Bacon Turkey Bravo was my previous winner for the most protein, but in 2023, Panera rolled out French Baguette sandwiches, which now take the prize.
With over 1,000 calories, this is a very large sandwich, but that also comes with nearly 70 grams of protein.
Highest Protein Panera Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken
480 Calories, 27g Fat, 25g Carbs, 37g Protein
The salads at Panera have recently been revamped, and the nutrition facts are much more impressive than they were in the past.
The Green Goddess salad contains a very impressive 37 grams of protein, but all of the salad options are quality sources of protein. Here are some other options at Panera:
Chicken Caesar Salad: 440 Calories and 29g of Protein
Chicken Asian Sesame Salad: 410 Calories and 27g of Protein
Fuji Apple Chicken Salad: 560 Calories and 27g of Protein
BBQ Chicken Salad: 510 Calories and 32g of Protein
One thing to be conscious of when you order a salad from Panera is the side you choose to pair it with.
You can choose bread or chips as a side to your salad, but that will come with a fair amount of additional calories. If you want to keep the calories low, you have the option to choose some fresh fruit, yogurt, or an apple.
Considering KFC is all about chicken, it’s no surprise to see them having some quality high-protein options. Unfortunately they do not currently have grilled chicken on the menu, which is a huge letdown for all of us macro-friendly dieters out there.
You can find my full KFC menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein KFC Menu Item
36 Pc. Chicken Nuggets
1,260 Calories, 54g Fat, 74g Carbs, 108g Protein
Technically speaking, a bucket of chicken will have the highest protein at KFC, but considering you receive a variety of chicken, there’s no way to pinpoint the exact calories & protein content.
So, our default winner goes to the 36 pieces of chicken nuggets with over 100 grams of protein.
If you don’t have the appetite to eat 36 nuggets, each chicken nugget from KFC contains 35 calories and 3 grams of protein, so you can build a solid meal around those little nuggets.
If you want an alternative that is still high in protein, the Classic Chicken Sandwich is also a decent option. With 650 calories and 34 grams of protein, it may not be the greatest protein source, but it’s not terrible for a fried chicken sandwich.
Check out my full guide comparing all the popular chicken sandwiches to see how this one stacks up.
Highest Protein KFC Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Original Recipe Chicken Breast
390 Calories, 21g Fat, 2g Carbs, 39g Protein
The chicken breast is going to give you the most bang for your buck at KFC, and you have the option to go with a fried or grilled version.
The Original Recipe Chicken Breast contains 39g of protein, but 390 calories. If you go with the Grilled Chicken Breast, it will contain only 210 calories and 38g of protein, giving you the most protein for the fewest calories.
If you’re in search of a high-protein sandwich, there’s really no better place to turn to than Subway. Since you can customize your sandwich however you’d like, you can make virtually any option fit your macro goals.
You can find my full post on eating high-protein at Subway here.
Highest Protein Subway Menu Item
The Beast Footlong
1,460 Calories, 88g Fat, 90g Carbs, 80g Protein
Huge appetite? Subway has you covered.
The Beast contains Pepperoni, Genoa Salami, Black Forest Ham, Roast Beef, Oven Roasted Turkey, 2X Provolone, and vegetables, which means it truly is a beast of a sandwich.
Of course, it’s also incredibly high in calories with almost 1,500 calories in total. But don’t worry, Subway has lots of lower-calorie options.
Highest Protein Subway Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Steak & Cheese No Bready Bowl
380 Calories, 19g Fat, 12g Carbs, 42g Protein
If you really want to maximize your calories, Subway has the option to order a “No Bread Bowl”. The bowls contain all of the fixings you’d find in a sandwich, but without any kind of bread or wrap, making them all high-protein options.
As you’d expect, this brings the calories way down. Take all the good parts of a footlong and toss them into a bowl, and you’ll generally be left with a very high-protein and low-calorie option.
For example, a grilled chicken bowl from Subway contains just 200 calories and 35 grams of protein. They’re really solid protein sources as long as you’re willing to ditch the bread.
The bowls at Subway contain twice as much protein as the salads, so when high-protein is the goal, stick with a bowl over a salad.
If you’re grabbing a Starbucks coffee and need something to pair it with, there are a few good options to choose from. Starbucks has a limited menu, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.
You can find my full Starbucks menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Starbucks Menu Item
Turkey, Provolone & Pesto Panini
520 Calories, 19g Fat, 53g Carbs, 32g Protein
The Turkey, Provolone, & Pesto Panini is a great lunch option at Starbucks if you want something high in protein to keep you full through the afternoon. With just over 500 calories, having 34g of protein is a solid option.
Starbucks also offers “protein boxes”, but they’re slightly lower in protein than this sandwich. All of the protein boxes do contain roughly 500 calories as well, but the protein hovers between 20-25g of protein.
Highest Protein Starbucks Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Egg & Cheddar Protein Box
470 Calories, 25g Fat, 40g Carbs, 23g Protein
Starbucks has a wide range of “protein boxes” available, but not all of them are impressive in the protein department. Of all of the boxes, the Egg & Cheddar Protein Box will get you the most protein for the fewest calories.
For reference, the peanut butter and jelly box contains over 500 calories and only 20g of protein.
It’s worth noting that because this protein box contains whole egg and cheese, the fat content is a little bit higher, but it is mostly healthy fat that you do not need to be overly concerned with.
High-Protein Panda Express
At Panda Express, you pair a main dish with a side option, so the nutrition will vary quite a bit. For this breakdown, I’ll share with you the highest calorie bowl option (entree with one side) as well as the highest protein single item.
Highest Protein Panda Express Bowl
Chow Mein with Teriyaki Chicken Bowl
850 Calories, 43g Fat, 94g Carbs, 54g Protein
As you’ll see below, the chicken teriyaki is the highest protein option at Panda Express on its own. The highest-protein side option is the chow mein (nearly twice as much protein as steamed white rice), so when paired together, this meal will have over 50 grams of protein.
Highest Protein Panda Express Entree
340 Calories, 13g Fat, 14g Carbs, 41g Protein
With 41 grams of protein and just over 300 calories, the chicken at Panda Express is one of the better protein sources out there when it comes to fast food. You’ll almost always pair this option with a side, so the calories can begin to add up depending on which you choose, but this chicken is still a great protein option.
Is Fast Food a Good Source of Protein?
As you can see by this post, there are plenty of high-protein options out there. Eating fast food doesn’t mean you’re going to fall off track with your diet.
While some options are certainly better than others, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy fast food and still hit your protein goals.
If you want to maximize your protein, be sure to utilize substitutions. While menus like Chick-fil-A and KFC contain a ton of high-protein options, other menus, like Taco Bell, might leave you feeling a bit disappointed in the lack of options.
Don’t worry, there are tons of substitutions you can make to maximize your protein! Here are some of my fast food ordering tips to help you get the most protein:
- Order grilled meat over fried. This may seem obvious to you, but ordering grilled chicken will get you significantly more protein than fried chicken.
- Order double/extra meat. If you’re ordering a salad from Panera or a burrito bowl from Chipotle, ordering double meat is an easy way to get even more protein in your meal (and make it more filling, too).
- Add cheese. If calories aren’t a concern, adding cheese to a sandwich or salad is a sneaky way to add a little bit of extra protein to any meal.
All in all, just get creative with it! Scope out the menu and see what substitutions you can make, because in most cases, there are plenty of ways to maximize your protein.
If your goal is to eat high-protein, you can absolutely still enjoy fast food.