Chili’s High-Protein Options for Athletes
Chili’s is a popular restaurant chain that athletes and teams frequently enjoy. It can be helpful for athletes to know what Chili’s high-protein menu items can support them with meeting their nutrition needs.
Let’s take a look at the protein needs of athletes as well as tips for building a healthy meal at restaurants. Then we will explore the Chili’s menu for high-protein items that athletes can include in their sports nutrition meal plan.
Protein Needs of Athletes at Meals
Protein is important in the diet of athletes. It has many essential roles in the body, including supporting athletes with building and repairing lean muscle mass.
To get the most benefit from protein, athletes are encouraged to spread protein intake throughout the day with several meals and snacks. Athletes should aim to consume ~0.25-0.3 grams of protein per kg of body weight at each eating occasion (1, 2).
In general, this calculates to be in the range of ~25-30 grams of protein at each meal/snack (depending on the weight of the athlete). In addition, athletes should include protein in their post-workout meal to support their recovery nutrition needs.
Building a Healthy Meal at Restaurants
In addition to protein, athletes looking to build a healthy meal at a restaurant should focus on including items that provide a good source of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide athletes with the energy needed to support training and performance.
When possible, athletes should select a healthy side item that includes fruit or vegetables. In addition, athletes should include a nutritious beverage with their meal. Drinks such as water, sparkling water, low-fat milk, or 100% fruit juice can help support an athlete’s hydration needs.
Finally, athletes should be mindful of portion sizes at restaurants. It is best to enjoy the meal in moderation and then have a healthy snack later in the day if hungry.
Chili’s High-Protein Options for Athletes
Now that you understand the protein needs of athletes and how to build a healthy meal at a restaurant, let’s take a look at the Chili’s menu to identify high-protein options.
A Note on Sodium in Chili’s High-Protein Menu Items
It is important to note that many of the high-protein menu items discussed below are also high in sodium. In general, consuming sodium in the diet can help athletes with replacing the sodium lost in sweat.
However, athletes who have been advised to restrict sodium in their diet should work with a sports dietitian nutritionist to develop an individualized plan for meeting their sports nutrition needs.
All the nutrition information included in this article comes from the Chili’s website. Menu options and nutrition information may change as products are updated. For the most current nutrition information, refer to the Chili’s website.
Chili’s Fajitas: High-Protein Menu Option
Chili’s fajitas are first on the list of high-protein menu options. The fajitas are served sizzling hot on a skillet with grilled bell peppers and onions.
For a lean protein option, I recommend choosing either the chicken fajitas or the shrimp fajitas. Chili’s also offers Mix & Match Fajitas, in which athletes can enjoy both protein options. The chicken and shrimp fajitas are both lower in saturated fat than the steak fajitas also offered on the menu.
- Grilled Chicken Fajitas: 58 grams of protein
- Shrimp Fajitas: 25 grams of protein
The fajitas come served with black beans, Mexican rice, pico, shredded cheese, and sour cream. The side of beans provides 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, making them a nutritious option to enjoy with the fajitas.
To help control the saturated fat content of the meal, athletes should consider skipping the sour cream and going light on the cheese. Athletes can also order corn tortillas in place of flour tortillas, which are lower in saturated fat.
With the fajitas, athletes can consider ordering a serving of guacamole. Guacamole contains healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making it a nutritious addition to the meal.
Chili’s Ancho Salmon
The Ancho Salmon at Chili’s is another healthy, high-protein option that athletes can enjoy. The meal features a seared chili-rubbed Atlantic salmon fillet. The salmon is served with a side of steamed broccoli and Mexican rice.
- Ancho Salmon: 48 grams protein
In addition to protein, salmon is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have many important roles in the body, such as supporting optimal brain health, cardiovascular function, and working to help reduce inflammation in the body (4).
Chili’s Margarita Grilled Chicken
For athletes who like a southwest flavor, the Margarita Grilled Chicken is a good choice. This high-protein meal includes grilled chicken served on top of Mexican rice, black beans, pico, and tortilla strips.
- Margarita Grilled Chicken: 52 grams protein
Chili’s Margarita Grilled Chicken is one of my personal favorite meals to order at Chili’s.
Chili’s Classic Sirloin with Avocado
If an athlete desires a steak at Chili’s, the classic sirloin with avocado is a high-protein choice. The sirloin is a leaner cut of meat, containing less saturated fat, than either the ribeye or ribs also offered on the Chili’s menu. Thus, it is a healthier choice for athletes.
Chili’s Classic Sirloin with Avocado is topped with sliced avocado, pico, and cilantro pesto and is served with a side of asparagus. Athletes can choose between a 6-oz or 10-oz sirloin for their meal.
- 6-oz Sirloin with Avocado: 39 grams of protein
- 10-oz Sirloin with Avocado: 60 grams of protein
When considering the protein needs of athletes at a meal, the 6-oz sirloin is adequate. However, athletes can order the 10-oz steak if they want to enjoy half of the steak at the restaurant and take the other half home for a later meal.
Chili’s Santa Fe Salad with Grilled Chicken: High-Protein Salad Option
The Santa Fe Salad with Grilled Chicken is a good high-protein salad option at Chili’s. The salad is topped with grilled chicken strips, pico, cilantro, tortilla strips, and sliced avocado.
- Santa Fe Salad with Grilled Chicken: 30 grams protein
To help control the saturated fat content of the salad, athletes can request the dressings be served on the side. This allows the athlete to control the amount of dressing added to the salad.
If desired, athletes can order the Santa Fe Salad topped with Ancho Salmon instead of the grilled chicken. The Santa Fe Salad topped with salmon is another great way for an athlete to enjoy a high-protein meal at Chili’s.
Chili’s Chipotle Chicken Fresh Mex Bowl
Burrito bowls have become a popular menu item at restaurants in recent years. Chili’s offers a Chipotle Chicken Fresh Mex Bowl, which is a protein-rich option for athletes.
The bowl includes grilled chicken, field greens, Mexican rice, corn salsa, avocado, shredded cheese, and tortilla strips.
- Chipotle Chicken Fresh Mex Bowl: 41 grams protein
To help decrease the saturated fat content of the dish, athletes should request the house-made ranch as well as the tortilla strips be served on the side.
Chili’s High-Protein Lunch Combo Options
If you dine at Chili’s during the lunch hours (11:00 am – 4:00 pm) on a weekday, you can take advantage of one of their lunch specials. The specials include a soup or salad along with a lunch-size portion of a variety of entrees.
The Bacon Avocado Grilled Chicken Sandwich served with a fresh garden salad can be a good high-protein lunch choice for athletes.
- Half Bacon Avocado Grilled Chicken Sandwich: 42 grams of protein
To help decrease the saturated fat content of the sandwich, athletes should consider ordering the sandwich without bacon. Also, they can request the mayo be served on the side so they can control the amount added to the sandwich.
The meal is also served with a side of French fries. For a healthier option, athletes can substitute a healthy side item such as the steamed broccoli, roasted asparagus, black beans, or sweet corn on the cob.
Chili’s Oldtimer® Burger
When looking at the burger options on the Chili’s menu, the Oldtimer® Burger contains the least amount of saturated fat. However, the burger is still high in saturated fat (22 grams) and not as healthy an option as the other items discussed above.
To help reduce the saturated fat content of the burger, athletes can order it without cheese.
- Chili’s Oldtimer® Burger: 48 grams of protein
Athletes can also consider substituting a black bean patty for the classic beef patty on the burger. This will reduce the saturated fat content of the burger by 15 grams.
The black bean patty provides 15 grams of protein. Thus, it is a good option for athletes following a plant-based diet to add protein to their meal.
Chili’s Kid Menu: High-Protein Options
The Chili’s Kids Menu has several high-protein options that are great choices for youth athletes. The Pepper Pals® Grilled Chicken Dippers, Grilled Chicken Bites, or Burger Bites can all support kid athletes with meeting their protein needs.
- Pepper Pals® Grilled Chicken Dippers: 22 grams protein
- Pepper Pals® Grilled Chicken Bites: 27 grams protein
- Pepper Pals® Burger Bites: 23 grams protein
The Pepper Pals® meals are served with a side item and drink. Encourage your child to select a healthy side, such as the steamed broccoli, mandarin oranges, beans, or corn on the cob to enjoy with their meal.
For the beverage, Chili’s offers 2% milk or 2% chocolate milk. Milk provides 13 essential nutrients, including a source of complete protein, calcium, and Vitamin D. Thus, ordering milk with the meal is a more nutritious option than a soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
Chili’s High-Protein Options for Athletes
You are now set with a variety of high-protein options that athletes can order at Chili’s. For additional high-protein ideas for athletes at restaurants check out my blog on high-protein options at Panera Bread.
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About the Author
Mandy Tyler is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation.