What to Pick and Pass On at Fast Food Restaurants

Although fast food is not ideal for athletes, some choices are healthier than others. STACK Expert Andrew Meyers has the scoop.

Being an athlete often means living life on the road. Whether it's a simple away game or a tournament, camp or showcase in a far-off land, athletes frequently find themselves away from home. This means having to eat away from home, too.

Fast food is a common choice, since it's cheap, convenient and easy to eat on the go. Although fast food might not seem ideal, athletes can still get nutritious meals, which can help them perform at their best. They just have to know what to pick and what to pass on.


Being an athlete often means living life on the road. Whether it's a simple away game or a tournament, camp or showcase in a far-off land, athletes frequently find themselves away from home. This means having to eat away from home, too.

Fast food is a common choice, since it's cheap, convenient and easy to eat on the go. Although fast food might not seem ideal, athletes can still get nutritious meals, which can help them perform at their best. They just have to know what to pick and what to pass on.

RELATED: Is Fast Food Effective for Recovery? A New Study Says So



Pick These Foods

1. Super Roast Beef

440 calories, 19g fat, 1,061mg sodium

This sandwich combines roast beef, lettuce and tomatoes, and it replaces mayonnaise with lower calorie spicy pepper sauce to help kick-start your metabolism for a game.

2. Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich

488 calories, 18g fat, 1,560mg sodium

For a lean protein source, grilled chicken is always a healthier option than fried chicken. It will restore and refuel your muscles without weighing you down.

3. Martha's Vineyard Salad

389 calories, 14g fat, 923mg sodium

Although a salad might not seem like an "athlete meal," it can be an excellent choice pre- or post-game,with leafy greens, grilled chicken, and light dressing.

Pass on These Foods

1. Roast Beef and Swiss Market Fresh Sandwich

810 calories, 42g fat, 1,780mg sodium

This sandwich consists of full-fat mayonnaise, Italian sub sauce and processed Swiss cheese.

2. Chicken Salad Sandwich

769 calories, 39g fat, 1,240mg sodium

3. Santa Fe Salad

773 calories, 52g fat, 1,823mg sodium

This may be a salad, but with close to 800 calories and a combination of ranch dressing and shredded cheese, it's one you should pass on.

Burger King

Burger King

Pick These Foods

1. Whopper Jr. with Garden Salad

365 calories, 12g fat, 1,230mg sodium

Opt for the small or Jr. size burgers and salads and hold the mayo.

2. Croissan'wich Egg and Cheese

300 calories, 17g fat, 740mg sodium

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats.

3. Small Onion Rings

140 calories, 7g fat, 210mg sodium

Pass on These Foods

1. Big Fish Sandwich with Fries

1,000 calories, 52g fat, 2,040mg sodium

Fish can be a great choice for athletes, but this menu item is heavily breaded and fried in partially hydrated oil.

2. Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit

530 calories, 37g fat, 1,490mg sodium

3. Small French Fries

230 calories, 13g fat, 380mg sodium

Carl's Jr.

Carl's Jr.

Pick These Foods

1. Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich

360 calories, 4.5g fat, 1,150mg sodium

With minimal toppings and grilled chicken, this sandwich is a great source of lean protein.

2. Fried Zucchini

320 calories, 19g fat, 850mg sodium

Pass on These Foods

1. Charbroiled Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich

610 calories, 32g fat, 1,540mg of sodium

The chicken may be charbroiled, but creamy Santa Fe sauce and a slice of processed cheese add an extra 27 grams of fat.

2. CrissCut Fries

410 calories, 24g fat, 950mg sodium

3. Chocolate Chip Cookie

350 calories, 18g fat, 330mg sodium



Pick These Foods

1. Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich

270 calories, 3.5g fat, 940mg sodium

Chargrilled chicken paired with lettuce, tomatoes and honey barbecue sauce make  this a solid pick.

2. Chick-fil-A Nuggets (8-pack)

305 calories, 13g fat, 1,020mg

You're never too old to enjoy chicken nuggets, and they're a great source of protein to help you refuel and replenish after a game.

3. Southwest Chargrilled Salad

360 calories, 8g fat, 1,170mg sodium

Adding chargrilled chicken to a bed of leafy greens drizzled with fat-free honey mustard dressing makes this an excellent salad pick.

Pass on These Foods

1. Chicken Caesar Cool Wrap

480 calories, 16g fat, 1,640mg sodium

With flat bread and Caesar dressing, this wrap's high calorie and fat count make it something you should probably avoid.

2. Chicken Sandwich

420 calories, 16g fat, 1,300mg sodium

3. Chick-n-Strips Salad

800 calories, 60g fat, 1,745mg sodium

Breaded chicken and ranch dressing turn what could have been a healthy salad into a heavy option. Pass.



Pick These Foods

1. Quarter Pounder

410 calories, 19g fat, 730mg sodium

Hold the cheese and this burger has a good balance of fat, carbohydrates, and protein to fuel your performance.

2. Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken

390 calories, 12.5g fat, 1,630mg sodium

Grilled chicken topped with fat-free sesame dressing provides an excellent source of protein.

3. Egg McMuffin

300 calories, 12g fat, 820mg sodium

Pass on These Foods

1. Premium Grilled Chicken Club

570 calories, 21g fat, 1,720mg sodium

Layered with bacon, mayonnaise, and liquid margarine. Pass every time.

2. Caesar Salad with Crispy Chicken and Croutons

550 calories, 32.5g fat, 1,660mg sodium

Fried chicken, caesar dressing and croutons spoil the nutritional value of this salad.

3. Hotcakes with Butter and Syrup

610 calories, 18g fat, 680mg sodium

Besides providing empty carbohydrates and sugar, pancakes and syrup do not constitute a well-balanced meal since they lack protein and healthy fats.



Pick These Foods

1. 6-inch Double Roast Beef Sub

360 calories, 7g fat, 1,300mg sodium

An excellent source of protein, this sub is a good pre- or post-game pick. Just make sure to choose the sweet onion sauce or honey mustard instead of mayonnaise.

2. Oven Roasted Chicken Breast Salad

175 calories, 2.5g fat, 1,120mg sodium

Oven roasted chicken is a lean source of protein to help you refuel and rebuild your muscles. Opt for fat-free Italian dressing.

3. Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup

80 calories, 2g fat, 1,240mg sodium

Pass on These Foods

1. 6-inch Tuna Sub

530 calories, 31g fat, 1,010mg sodium

Tuna is naturally high in protein and low in fat, making it a great meal or snack for athletes. But when it's lathered with full-fat mayonnaise, it makes this sandwich a no-no.

2. Turkey Breast Salad

430 calories, 37.5g fat, 1,140mg sodium

Turkey on salad sounds good, but because it has shredded cheese and ranch dressing, this salad is not as healthy a choice as the oven roasted chicken breast salad.

3. Wild Rice with Chicken Soup

210 calories, 11g fat, 1,250mg sodium

Substituting rice for noodles and chicken for roast chicken increases the fat and calories of this soup. You will want to pass.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell

Pick These Foods

1. Two Grilled Steak Soft Tacos, Fresco Style

320 calories, 9g fat, 1,100mg sodium

When you order anything "fresco style" at Taco Bell, the chefs replace cheese and sauces with chunky tomato salsa, reducing the fat content by 25%.

2. Two Spicy Chicken Soft Tacos

340 calories, 12g fat, 1,660mg sodium

3. Cinnamon Twists

170 calories, 7g fat, 200mg sodium

Light, airy, and dusted with muscle-defending cinnamon, these twists make a tasty and relatively healthy dessert choice.

Pass on These Foods

1. Baja Beef Chalupa

410 calories, 27g fat, 780mg sodium

The Chalupa shell alone has 13 grams of fat and 25 grams of carbohydrates.

2. Grilled Stuft Chicken Burrito

640 calories, 23g fat, 2,160mg sodium

Avoid anything with the word "stuft." That's code for excess amounts of bad things, things that will leave you feeling sluggish during your game.

3. Caramel Apple Empanadas

290 calories, 14g fat, 300mg sodium



Pick These Foods

1. 3 Crispy Strips with Green Beans and Corn on the Cob

470 calories, 22g fat, 1,775mg sodium

The green beans provide a healthy dose of vitamin K, A, and C, which help maintain strong bones and reduce free radicals.

2. Honey BBQ KFC Snacker

210 calories, 3g fat, 530mg sodium

The name says it all—a perfect pre-game snack filled with protein to fuel your performance.

3. Roasted BLT Salad

235 calories, 6g fat, 1,290mg sodium

Pass on These Foods

1. KFC Famous Bowl

740 calories, 35g fat, 2,350mg sodium

This starchy meal contains 80 grams of empty carbohydrates and tons of sodium. Eating it before a game is sure to leave you feeling bogged down.

2. Individual Popcorn Chicken

400 calories, 26g fat, 1,160mg sodium

3. Crispy Caesar Salad

670 calories, 48g fat, 1,755mg sodium

A combination of fried chicken, creamy Parmesan dressing and croutons makes this salad anything but healthy.

Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box

Pick These Foods

1. Chicken Fajita Pita with Side Salad and Fire Roasted Salsa

335 calories, 12g fat, 1,275mg sodium

Packed with fresh vegetables and lean chicken in a hand-held pita, this is an excellent pick at a usually unhealthy fast food restaurant.

2. Hamburger Deluxe

280 calories, 11g fat, 475mg sodium

3. Breakfast Jack

290 calories, 12g fat, 760mg sodium

Pass on These Foods

1. Chipotle Chicken Ciabatta with Medium Natural Cut Fries

1,140 calories, 51g fat, 3,000mg sodium

In addition to the bacon, cheese, and chipotle sauce, the fries add 7 grams of trans fat.

2. Jumbo Jack with Cheese

690 calories, 42g fat, 1,310mg sodium

Anything with the words "jumbo" in it should probably be avoided, and when a slice of cheese is added, you have at least another 7 grams of fat.

3. Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit

740 calories, 55g fat, 1,430mg sodium

Panda Express

Panda Express

Pick These Foods

1. Broccoli Beef with Mushroom Chicken and Mixed Vegetables

350 calories, 17g fat, 1,200mg sodium

Substitute broccoli for string beans for 6 times more selenium and 5 times more vitamin C.

2. Tangy Shrimp

150 calories, 5g fat, 550mg sodium

Shrimp is high in protein and low in fat, making this a light meal.

3. String Bean Chicken Breast

160 calories, 8g fat, 550mg sodium

Pass on These Foods

1. Kung Pao Chicken with BBQ Pork and Steamed Rice

1,060 calories, 40.5g fat, 2,140mg sodium

This meal packs 66 grams of protein, but the fatty pork and white rice deliver 108 grams of empty carbohydrates, which could leave you crashing in the middle of the game.

2. Kung Pao Shrimp

240 calories, 14g fat, 640mg sodium

3. Orange Chicken

500 calories, 27g fat, 810mg sodium

Fried chicken slathered with thick sauce. This is the only item on the Panda Express menu with trans fat (5.5 grams).



Zinczenko, David. (2008). Eat This Not That. Chapter 2. At Your Favorite Restaurants. Pg. 18-33.

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