The Best Healthy, High-Protein Fast Food Options

While we’d never advocate fast food be your main source of nutrition, sometimes the drive-thru is unavoidable. Whether it’s for convenience or cravings—you can make a pitstop at Micky D’s without wrecking your physique and actually get a solid dose of protein. It’s true: You can find high-protein fast food that can help you hit optimal levels of the muscle-building macro. There are just a few things to keep in mind.

Can Fast Food Be a Good Source of Protein?

Fast food has long been criticized for its association with unhealthy eating habits and its contribution to the rising rates of obesity and chronic diseases. Unlike the debate over healthy cheese varieties and whether or not bread is good for you (carbs have been unfairly demonized for years), fast food is generally poor in nutrition across the board.

The obvious drawback of relying on fast food as a source of dietary protein is it’s notorious for being high in fat, sodium, and calories. A fried chicken sandwich slathered in BBQ sauce with a side of French fries doesn’t exactly scream well-balanced meal.

Even healthier fast food options are still packed with more sodium than you should consume, which can add to water retention and bloating, points out New York-based nutritionist Jessica Cording, R.D.

Amidst these concerns, an interesting question arises: Can fast food actually be a good source of dietary protein?

Some options do provide a substantial amount of protein if you choose wisely. From burgers and chicken sandwiches to grilled chicken salads and wraps, many fast food establishments have incorporated protein-rich ingredients into their menus and are being more mindful of the push to have better-for-you offerings.

Rather than rolling up and trying to guess what you think is high-protein fast food (or even the lowest calorie fast food), we’ve tapped a handful of nutritionists to tell you exactly what to order.

How to Identify Healthier, High-Protein Fast Food

Some experts don’t break any nutrition rules when it comes to ordering fast food; they recommend ordering a la cart and tossing half the meal just to score the perfect portion of protein, carbs, and fats. But we’re not fans of food waste and other R.D.s are a bit more lenient. They argue you can enjoy the healthiest fast food options available as long as you’re not doing it every week.

If you’re trying to make a lifestyle change that includes cleaning up your diet, don’t completely deprive yourself of foods you enjoy. Incorporate a couple days each month to indulge in a fast food meal. It can help you stick to a healthier nutrition regimen since strict diets tend to be too overwhelming for long-term sustainability.

Also note we said cheat meal, not cheat day. The latter is an eight- to 12-hour window in which you go outside of your clean meal plan and straight-out binge. Just because The Rock has epic cheat meals doesn’t mean you should, as they’re typically recommended for those who are competitive athletes and bodybuilders who are burning serious calories.

There are a few blanket rules everyone should follow when getting anything to-go, even from the so-called healthiest fast food restaurants, says Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, corporate dietitian at Medifast.

  1. Skip the soda.

  2. Opt for lean meat protein like turkey and chicken; beef is okay in moderation, but look for fish protein elsewhere.

  3. Order salad dressing on the side.

  4. Keep condiments to a minimum.(You minimize the amount of added sugar and salt you’re getting.)

Ready to put in your order? Here’s the best high-protein fast food you can eat when you don’t have a healthy lunch packed from home.

Meet the Experts

  • Keri Gans, R.D.N., New York-based nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet

  • Michelle Shepherd, R.D., founder of Westcoast Nutrition

  • Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D.N., nutrition and fitness expert

  • Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition for the San Francisco 49ers

  • Jessica Cording, R.D., New York-based nutritionist

  • Alexandra Miller, R.D.N., L.D.N., corporate dietitian at Medifast

The Best Healthy, High-Protein Fast Food Options

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1. Arby’s Double Roast Beef Sandwich

The logic is simple here: Order double roast beef and you get an extra protein boost. Roast beef is lean, lower in sodium, and packs 7 grams protein per slice. It’s a hefty sandwich, but minimal in terms of add-ons. In short: You won’t be hungry after consuming this beefy behemoth.

Macros: 38g protein, 24g fat, 38g carbs, 510 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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2. Burger King WHOPPER JR.® Sandwich

This is the original Burger King sandwich recipe—lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles—but in a more appropriate serving size. It offers a decent amount of protein and fewer calories, especially if paired with a side salad.

Macros: 13g protein, 18g fat, 27g carbs, 310 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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3. Chick-fil-A Grilled Market Salad

This flavorful salad serves up grilled chicken breast over a fresh bed of mixed greens, topped with crumbled blue cheese and a mix of red and green apples, strawberries, and blueberries. Note: Other healthy, high-protein options from Chick-fil-A include Egg White Grill (27g protein), Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap (43g protein), and 12-count Grilled Chicken Nuggets (30g protein).

Macros: 28g protein, 31g fat, 41g carbs, 540 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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4. Chipotle Salad Bowl With Chicken

When you build your own salad, you’re in control of the protein source and add-ins. Here’s how to make a high-protein fast food bowl: Opt for grilled chicken (180 calories, 32g protein, 4.5g fat, 0g carbs), black beans (120 calories, 8g protein, 0.5g fat, 22g carbs), fajita vegetables (20 calories, 1g protein, 0g fat, 4g carbs), salsa, and include guacamole (230 calories, 2g protein, 22g fat, 8g carbs). Skip the dressing or choose a lighter option.

Macros: 43g protein, 27g fat, 34g carbs, 550 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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5. Del Taco Chicken Taco Del Carbon Guac’d Up

Chicken Taco Del Carbon Guac’d Up has a crowd-pleasing combination. A soft corn tortilla is filled with grilled chicken, chopped onions, fresh cilantro, and a tangy green sauce. This is a high-protein fast food option that doesn’t skimp on flavor.

Macros: 30 g protein, 10 g fat, 45g carbs, 380 calories.

Approved by: Gans

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6. In-N-Out Burger Protein Style Double-Double

On In-N-Out’s not-so-secret secret menu, you’ll find Protein Style Double-Double, a keto-friendly option. Two beef patties are wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun with cheese, tomato, onion, pickles, mustard, and ketchup.

Macros: 46g protein, 46g fat, 5.5g carbs, 625 calories

Approved by: Miller

7. McDonald’s McChicken Sandwich

A chicken patty served on a sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, the McChicken Sandwich provides a decent amount of protein and a moderate amount of fat. Note: Other high-protein options include Grilled Chicken Wrap (33g protein) and Grilled Chicken Salad (38g protein).

Macros: 14g protein, 21g fat, 39g carbs, 400 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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8. Panera Bread Strawberry Poppyseed Salad With Chicken

This is a vibrant salad featuring chicken raised without antibiotics, romaine lettuce, mandarin oranges, and fresh strawberries, blueberries and pineapple tossed in a poppyseed dressing. You get some added crunch from toasted pecan pieces, which provide a satisfying dose of protein and essential nutrients.

Macros: 27g protein, 13g fat, 36g carbs, 350 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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9. Qdoba Grilled Chicken Bowl

By choosing a bowl with grilled chicken, rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, lettuce, pico de gallo or salsa verde, you can create a high-protein meal order under 600 calories.

Macros: 49g protein, 7g fat, 73g carbs, 565 calories

Approved by: Brill

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10. Sonic Drive-In Grilled Chicken Wrap

Grilled all-white-meat chicken with lettuce, tomato, and light ranch wrapped in a tortilla is a great snack or light lunch for on-the-go protein.

Macros: 31g protein, 21g fat, 38g carbs, 480 calories

Approved by: Brill

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11. Starbucks Turkey, Provolone, and Pesto on Ciabatta

As far as high-protein fast food options go, this sando hits the spot: Thick-sliced turkey breast, melted provolone cheese, dry-roasted red peppers, and basil pesto are piled on a ciabatta roll.

Macros: 32g protein, 19g fat, 53g carbs, 520 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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12. Subway Turkey Breast Sub

When ordering a sandwich, go for lean turkey breast with a combination of vegetables and whole-grain bread. Here’s what to get: Turkey breast, Swiss cheese, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper on nine-grain whole-wheat bread.

Macros: 28g protein, 8g fat, 50g carbs, 390 calories

Approved by: Brill

13. Taco Bell Power Bowl With Chicken

While it’s easy to go on a fast food frenzy at Taco Bell’s drive-thru, go for a Power Bowl. Grilled chicken, black beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, and reduced-fat sour cream offer a solid amount of protein and fiber.

Macros: 26g protein, 21g fat, 41g carbs, 460 calories

Approved by: Mazur

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14. Wendy’s Avocado Chicken Salad

A lettuce blend mixed with cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, avocado, applewood smoked bacon, and grilled chicken breast all get topped with a Southwest ranch dressing. An alternative high-protein option is the Caesar Chicken Salad (30g protein).

Macros: 32g protein, 36g fat, 7.5g carbs, 485 calories

Approved by: Mazur