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 you!
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.
This is usually packed with calories as well, and isn’t necessarily a great protein source, but it’s interesting to see which items actually contain the most protein.
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 isn’t always a great protein source
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, it’s certainly not an amazing protein source, either.
You can absolutely get more bang for your protein buck by making some substitutions at fast food restaurants, but I wanted to keep this guide simple by showing you menu items you can quickly order.
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 actually contains much less protein, with only 25g of protein overall (with 550 calories).
Highest Protein McDonald’s Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Crispy Chicken Sandwich
470 Calories, 20g Fat, 45g Carbs, 27g Protein
You would expect that a fried chicken sandwich would have more protein, but when there’s breading involved, you end up not getting a ton of white meat in there compared to something like a grilled chicken sandwich. Still, this is one of the better protein options at McDonald’s!
In fact, if you order a McChicken, it contains 400 calories but only 14g of protein overall, so this is a much better option.
You can find my full Burger King menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Burger King Menu Item
Triple Whopper With Cheese
1,170 Calories, 78g Fat, 56g Carbs, 72g 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) 72g 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.
A slightly more reasonable option would be the Bacon & Swiss Royal Crispy Sandwich, which contains 46 grams of protein with 820 calories. While still high in calories, it does contain a fair amount of protein.
Highest Protein Burger King Menu Item Under 500 Calories
460 Calories, 25g Fat, 31g Carbs, 27g Protein
Surprisingly, the double cheeseburger from Burger King will get you nearly identical nutrition facts to the Crispy Chicken Sandwich from McDonald’s.
For reference, the double cheeseburger from McDonald’s is still very close, with 450 calories and 25g of protein, so they are extremely similar options.
A single cheeseburger from Burger King contains 300 calories and 16 grams of protein, so you get a bit more bang for your buck going with the double cheeseburger.
You can find my full Wendy’s menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Wendy’s Menu Item
Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple
1,530 Calories, 107g Fat, 53g Carbs, 89g Protein
The Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple Cheeseburger 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 you: “Three-quarters of a pound* of fresh, never-frozen beef, warm beer cheese sauce, Applewood smoked bacon, smoky honey mustard, crispy fried onions, pickles, and a slice of muenster cheese all on an extra soft pretzel bun. Moderation in all things, except when it comes to Pretzel Bacon Pubs.”
In other words: this burger is absolutely massive.
Now, is it delicious? Probably. And considering it has nearly 100 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
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 slightly less protein with 33g in total, but also contains just 350 calories.
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.
You can find my full Chick-fil-A menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Chick-fil-A Menu Item
30 Piece Nuggets
950 Calories, 43g Fat, 41g Carbs, 100g 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 actually not a horrible 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 sauce.
Highest Protein Chick-fil-A Menu Item Under 500 Calories
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 to this wrap, which is basically 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 really 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.
Taco Bell is one of those places where you are almost ordering multiple items (like multiple tacos) so the protein will obviously 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 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 it is technically the highest protein single menu item at Taco Bell.
Plus, with about 500 calories, it’s certainly not a terrible option.
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…
Highest Protein Taco Bell Menu Item if Substitutions Are Made
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.
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.
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.
You can find my full Panera menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein Panera Menu Item
Bacon Turkey Bravo Sandwich
1,000 Calories, 41g Fat, 104g Carbs, 54g 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.
In that case, this turkey sandwich would be 500 calories and 26g of protein, which is still a pretty decent option.
Highest Protein Panera Menu Item Under 500 Calories
Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken
500 Calories, 30g 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 obviously 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.
You can find my full KFC menu nutrition guide here.
Highest Protein KFC Menu Item
8 Pc. Chicken Tenders
1,120 Calories, 56g Fat, 65g Carbs, 80g 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 8 piece chicken tenders, containing 80 grams of protein!
Each chicken tender from KFC contains 140 calories and 10 grams of protein, so you can build a solid meal around those tenders.
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.
You can find my full post on eating high-protein at Subway here.
Highest Protein Subway Menu Item
The Monster Footlong Pro
1,470 Calories, 80g Fat, 83g Carbs, 114g Protein
Monster appetite? Subway has you covered.
The Monster contains steak, bacon, cheese, pepper, and onion, and if you make it a PRO footlong, you’ll get double the meat! That means you’ll get well over 100g of protein for the entire 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
Grilled Chicken Wrap
470 Calories, 11g Fat, 54g Carbs, 42g Protein
Subway offers many different wraps that are all great options for protein. Since you’re ditching the higher-calorie bread, you end up really getting the most out of the sandwich when you choose a wrap.
If you really want to maximize your calories, Subway also has the option to order a “No Bread Bowl”. This is basically all of the fixings you’d find in a sandwich, but without any kind of bread or wrap.
As you’d expect, this brings the calories way down. 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.
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.
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 option when eating high 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 really 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.
Tuesday 30th of August 2022
Super stoked that someone has done all this research so I don't have to! Definitely going to check out the rest of your blog. Thanks!
Wednesday 16th of February 2022
The KFC original recipe chicken breast is wrong. It's not 4g of fat. It's actually 21g of fat.
Wednesday 16th of February 2022
Thanks, Zach. Don’t know how I missed that. I have a full KFC breakdown where it’s correct (https://cheatdaydesign.com/kfc-nutrition-guide) I’ll go in and get that fixed right now though. Appreciate you looking out.