The phrase “fast food” generally leaves a bad taste in our mouths these days, but let’s be real – when you’ve worked your tail off at the gym, sometimes those grab-and-go comfort foods call your name.
But there’s no reason to feel bad about your cravings: The truth is, not all quick eats are nutritional suicide. It’s best to replenish your body with a balance of protein and carbs after a tough sweat session, in order to aid in muscle recovery, and now that most fast food joints have made an effort to become more transparent about their calorie counts and ingredients, selecting a sensible recovery meal from a chain restaurant isn’t entirely impossible.
For those times when cooking isn’t an option (or you’d rather run another five miles than step foot in the kitchen), here are some of the most balanced dishes in fast-food land:
Best Balanced Breakfast: Panera Breakfast Power Sandwich
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Panera’s sit-down style masks its often calorie-crazy menu, but with 22 grams of filling protein and a dose of fiber from whole grain bread, this morning option is a surprisingly good way to start the day.
Fat: 15 grams; 7 grams saturated
Protein: 22 grams
Best Balanced Lunch: Chipotle soft corn tortillas with steak, cheese, lettuce and tomato
At Chipotle, it’s easy to go overboard with a giant burrito and guacamole, but stick with the tacos and you’ll keep your portion – and waistline – in check. And always choose fiber-filled corn tortillas over processed white-flour wraps that’ll only leave you hungry and heavy.
Fat: 18 grams; 7 grams saturated
Protein: 42 grams protein
Best Balanced Snack: Smoothie King Skinny Chocolate High-Protein Smoothie
The word “smoothie” can be deceptively associated with being healthy – some of these sweet treats have more sugar than five Krispy Kreme donuts! But go for a high-protein version, and opt for the “skinny” style (no added sugar), and you’ll get all the cool, creamy goodness without forfeiting your hard-earned body.
Fat: 9 grams; 1 grams saturated
Protein: 30 grams
Best Balanced Dinner: McDonald’s Grilled Chicken Ranch BLT
Opting for a grilled chicken breast over a fried poultry patty means the added bacon won’t tip your calorie count over the edge. Sodium aside (it packs about half a day’s worth), this is a surprisingly decent option from the McDonald’s lineup.
Fat: 14 grams; 4 grams saturated
Protein: 36 grams
Balanced Dessert: Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty (Jr.)
Hooray for reasonable portion sizes! Wendy’s Frostys are undeniably delicious, and with a decent balance of protein and carbs, you can feel free to treat your body (and your mind) with this classic fast-food shake – in small doses anyway.
Fat: 5 grams; 3 grams saturated
Protein: 5 grams