I’ve told thousands of patients and members of my community to get their protein from clean, organic sources such as grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught seafood. Yet, I know that it’s not always possible to find the time to cook a healthy meal in today’s fast-paced world between caring for children, stress at work, and everything else life throws at us. Sometimes you need a high-protein fast food option.
Many of you know that I don’t normally advocate eating out, especially at fast-food restaurants. Fast food is not good for you and full of unhealthy fat and processed meats and contains 30 to 50% more calories and fewer nutrients than home-cooked meals.1
However, I understand that sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Sometimes, your hunger creeps up on you while you’re on the go, and you need to get something quick. No matter how much we may prepare, we all get stuck in that situation.
Fast food may not be the best choice, yet there are high-protein fast food options that make a good substitute when you need a quick bite on the go. I will give you the six best high-protein fast-food options (with modifications) and tell you how you can easily satisfy your hunger on-the-go without relying on the drive-thru.
6 High-Protein Fast Food Options
Believe it or not, there are several high-protein fast food options available. As you may know, chicken is the most protein-dense food available. Many fast-food restaurants have chicken options, yet some are better than others.
You will want to stay away from the breaded, fried chicken containing gluten. Gluten is an inflammatory food that triggers the release of zonulin, a chemical that signals the tight injunctions of your intestinal wall creating intestinal permeability – otherwise known as leaky gut.2
Of course, a burger without the bun also provides a protein punch. A word of caution: even if you ditch the bun and breading on chicken, don’t count on your meal being 100% gluten free if you have celiac disease or a very strict gluten intolerance. I carry Complete Enzymes with me just in case I accidentally ingest gluten. If you do find yourself having to go through the drive-thru, here are six choices for high-protein fast food options.
Popeyes Handcrafted Blackened Tenders
You rarely hear “healthy” and “Popeyes” in the same sentence. However, Popeyes offers a chicken option that is not breaded or fried.
Popeyes’ five-piece handcrafted blackened chicken tenders provide 280 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of carbohydrate, and 43 grams of protein without high-fat sauces.
Unlike the original handcrafted tenders, these tenders do not have gluten-filled breading. The blackened seasoning gives the tenders a delicious flavor. However, the downside is that there is 920 mg of sodium in the blackened seasoning, nearly half of the daily amount of sodium recommended (2,300mg) by the FDA’s Dietary Guidelines.3 Despite the high sodium content, the blackened tenders are much better for you and lower in sodium than many other high-protein fast food options.
KFC Grilled Chicken Breast
The grilled chicken breast offered by KFC provides 210 calories, 38g of protein, 0g of carbohydrates, and 2 grams of saturated fat. Despite its high-protein punch, the KFC Grilled Chicken Breast is high in sodium like other high-protein fast food options. Just one 4.6-ounce serving contains 710 milligrams of sodium.
They do not offer many vegetables or healthy side options, so if you’re in a pinch at KFC, you’ll want to stick with the grilled chicken and hold all the sauces, side dishes, and biscuits that come with it.
Chick-Fil-A Lemon Kale Caesar Salad
The Lemon Kale Caesar Salad at Chick-Fil-A includes grilled chicken breast nuggets on a bed of kale and romaine and fresh lemon wedges. The entire salad provides 470 calories and 43 grams of protein.
In addition to delivering satiating protein, the kale in this salad is a nutritional superstar. Kale is rich in vitamins A, K, B6, and C, and it’s also a great non-dairy source of calcium.4 Ditch the shaved parmesan and Lemon Parmesan Panko to make it Paleo-diet friendly.
Although this is considered one of the healthiest options offered by Chick-Fil-A, it provides 24 grams of fat and 1,830 milligrams of sodium.
In-N-Out Burger (Protein Style)
If you want to grab something on the go and stick to your diet, In-N-Out’s classic hamburger served “protein style” is a great choice. A lettuce wrap replaces the traditional bun when you order it protein style.
One protein-style hamburger with pickles, onions, and tomato provides 240 calories, 13 grams of protein, 370 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of fat, and 11 grams of carbohydrates. Some people have a nightshade sensitivity, so if you do, you can hold the tomatoes. To find out if you have a sensitivity to tomatoes, I recommend an elimination diet.
Arby’s Roast Chicken Entree’ Salad
Arby’s Roast Chicken Entree’ Salad is a high-protein fast food full of flavor and low in calories. The salad provides 250 calories, 25 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, and 690 milligrams of sodium.
Arby’s Roast Chicken Entree’ Salad also provides 3 grams of fiber. Fiber is vital for a healthy digestive system because it provides bulk to your stool and softens it, making it easier to move waste through your digestive system. Be sure to ask for it without the cheese.
Chipotle Salad with Chicken, Fajita Vegetables, and Salsa
For another great lunch or dinner option, Chipotle’s salad with chicken, fajita vegetables, and salsa will keep you full for hours. It boasts 36 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber in only 295 calories. The fajita vegetables are sauteed with a few simple ingredients, adding fiber and flavor to the salad. Remember that peppers are nightshades. So if you have a sensitivity hold the fajita vegetables.
The truth is that not even the best high-protein fast food options are as nutritionally balanced as a home-cooked meal. If you must go with one of these high-protein fast-food options, there are some tips to keep in mind in the drive-thru.
Tips for High Protein Fast Foods
Anytime I go to a restaurant, I always look up the menu online to make sure there are healthy options to meet my dietary needs. Most fast-food restaurants have their menus online, so it’s easy to know what to look for. Keep these tips in mind for high-protein fast food when you can’t plan.
- Ditch the buns – Buns contain gluten. Most restaurants are happy to serve your meal without the bun. If they can’t, you can remove it.
- Watch for gluten and dairy – Gluten and dairy are two foods I recommend everyone remove from their diet. These two inflammatory foods are the biggest culprits behind the skyrocketing rates of chronic illness and autoimmune disease we face today.
- Skip anything fried – Fried foods are generally high in fat, and the oil isn’t always fresh oil or not healthy fats such as olive oil or avocado oil. Skip the fried chicken, french fries, and onion rings!
- Pass on sauces – Most sauces don’t list the ingredients, so it’s difficult to know what is in them, including gluten. They are often full of sugar, fat, and calories with little to no nutritional value. Sauces include spreads, dipping sauce, and most salad dressings.
These tips will help you get the most out of your high-protein fast food meal. Protein is essential for optimal health! It’s more than essential – it’s critical. Let’s talk about why.
Why You Need High Protein
Your body relies on a sufficient intake of protein daily. Protein is a macronutrient, meaning your body needs large amounts of it, as opposed to the small number of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Your body doesn’t make protein on its own. It must come from our diet. Proteins from meat and animal products are complete proteins, which means they contain all of the amino acids the body cannot make on its own.
Protein benefits your body in so many ways, such as promoting lean muscle, supporting weight loss, facilitating cell repair, helping curb sugar cravings, and promoting weight loss. So, how much protein do you need?
The amount of protein a person needs varies by individual factors such as age, activity level, and lifestyle. A good rule of thumb is to get 10 to 35% of your calories from protein. For example, if you are eating a 2,000-calorie diet, 200 to 700 calories should come from protein (50 to 175 grams).5
While some plant-based foods such as quinoa and buckwheat are complete proteins, I recommend everyone get their protein from animal sources.
Why Animal-Based Proteins Are Best
Plant protein may seem like a good protein alternative, yet legumes and grains are inflammatory foods. Inflammatory foods can lead to leaky gut, SIBO, Candida overgrowth, and autoimmune disease.
I was a vegetarian for over 20 years, and I ultimately discovered that this played a significant role in why I developed an autoimmune condition. Since I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, I have done extensive research and made a substantial shift in my diet.
Now, I recommend that anyone dealing with autoimmunity add animal protein to their diet. When it comes to plant protein vs. animal protein, animal protein is the clear winner!
Protein powder can also be a convenient way to get more protein in your diet. However, not all protein powders are created equal. Whey and casein, both of which are proteins found in cow’s dairy, are among the most common protein powders. Remember, dairy is an inflammatory food and causes problems for many people. I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to find a protein powder from animal sources that don’t include whey or casein. If you have also found it frustrating, or if you want to avoid the drive-thru, I have good news for you.
Alternatives to High-Protein Fast Food
It’s worth repeating that I don’t recommend going through a drive-thru to get high-protein fast food. If you’d rather avoid fast food altogether, planning by keeping high-protein snacks with you or making a protein shake are great options.
Protein bars are convenient snacks that can fit in your bag while you’re on the go. My Chewy Chocolate Paleo Bars are a great protein option to satisfy your hunger. They provide 10 grams of high-quality protein, 8 grams of dietary fiber, and 6 grams of healthy fats in each bar.
The Chewy Chocolate Paleo Bars are the perfect delicious snack between meals. Having followed a Paleo-inspired diet for quite a while, I’ve tried almost every dessert bar on the market, and I can personally attest that most of them aren’t worth the plastic they’re wrapped in. Chewy Chocolate Paleo Bars are exceedingly chewy and delicious!
If you want more protein, making a protein shake to take with you while you’re on the go is the perfect option. There are so many protein powders on the market I know it can be hard to choose. I spent years looking for a protein powder with high protein that didn’t contain dairy or inflammatory ingredients. Without any luck finding a high-quality protein, I decided to formulate my own.
The Myers Way® Paleo Protein contains 21 grams of protein per serving and is an excellent source of essential amino acids. I formulated this protein powder to include an excellent source of essential amino acids found in a complete protein.
With 9 delicious flavors, The Myers Way® Paleo Protein powders are a great way to get a high-protein, dairy-free meal substitute. I like to make mine using coconut milk. If coconut milk isn’t your cup of tea, another dairy alternative is a great substitute.
I know our busy modern lifestyles can make it challenging to eat healthy all the time. It’s not the end of the world if you occasionally go through a drive-thru for a high-protein fast food option. High protein helps keep you feeling full longer, so a convenient snack or a to-go protein shake made with The Myers Way® Paleo Protein can ensure you get high protein to hold you over until you can cook a healthy meal at home.
FAQ About High Protein Fast Food
What fast food item has the most protein?
What fast food item has the most protein?
Popeyes’ five-piece handcrafted blackened chicken tenders provide a whopping 43 grams of protein without high-fat sauces. Another good option is KFC’s grilled chicken breast, which boasts 38g of protein.
What are alternatives to fast food?
What are alternatives to fast food?
If you want to avoid fast food, the best option is to plan and have protein snacks on hand when you are on the go. A snack high in protein will help you feel fuller longer to get to a healthier option than fast food.
What has a lot of protein at Chick-Fil-A?
What has a lot of protein at Chick-Fil-A?
The Lemon Kale Caesar Salad at Chick-Fil-A includes grilled chicken breast nuggets on a bed of kale and romaine and fresh lemon wedges. The entire salad provides 43 grams of protein.
- Higher densities of fast-food and full-service restaurants are not associated with obesity prevalence. Moshen Mazidi & John R Speakman. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017.
- Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. Alessio Fasano. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012.
- Sodium Reduction. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2021.
- The many types and health benefits of kale. Mayo Clinic. 2018.
- Are you getting too much protein?. Kristi Wempen, RDN. Mayo Clinic. 2022.