High-Protein Taco Bell Items for Athletes
Taco bell is a popular fast-food restaurant that many athletes stop at for a quick meal on-the-go. Thus, it can be helpful for athletes to know what high-protein Taco Bell items can support them with meeting their nutrition needs.
Let’s take a look at the protein needs of athletes. Then we will explore the Taco Bell menu to identify high-protein items that athletes can order.
Understanding the Protein Needs of Athletes
Protein is an important component of an athlete’s meal plan. 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 should focus on spreading their protein intake throughout the day with several meals and snacks. It is recommended that athletes 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 20-40 grams of protein at each meal/snack. Athletes should also plan to include protein in their post-workout meal to support their recovery nutrition needs.
As a reminder, eating protein alone will not result in muscle gain. To promote muscle growth, athletes need to combine their sports nutrition meal plan with an individualized strength and conditioning program to promote muscle growth.
Building a Healthy Meal at Taco Bell
Although Taco Bell would not be my first choice for athletes, it is important for athletes to be equipped with knowledge on the best menu choices at the restaurant.
In addition to consuming protein with the meal, athletes should select menu items that provide a good source of carbohydrates and that are low in saturated fat. At Taco Bell, side items such as black beans and rice can be a nutritious addition to the meal.
Athletes should also focus on their hydration needs and include a nutritious beverage with their meal, such as water, unsweet tea, low-fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Finally, athletes should be mindful of portion sizes and avoid ordering Taco Bell’s large combo meals. It is better to enjoy a smaller meal in moderation and eat a balanced snack later in the day if hungry.
Tips for Reducing Saturated Fat
To help reduce the saturated fat content of the meal, athletes should limit fried foods, such as tortilla chips, chalupas, and Taco Bell’s seasoned fries. In addition, nacho cheese sauces and sour cream tend to be higher in saturated fat and less healthy choices.
At Taco Bell, athletes can order most menu items “Fresco style.” Menu items ordered “Fresco style” will have diced tomatoes added to the item in place of the sour cream, cheese, and mayo-based sauces. Thus, this is an easy way for athletes to reduce the saturated fat content of their meals at Taco Bell.
High-Protein Taco Bell Items for Athletes
Let’s now explore the Taco Bell menu for high-protein items that can support athletes with meeting their nutrition needs. Athletes may consider pairing the menu items to build a high-protein meal.
Note: Menu items that are high in saturated fat, such as the quesadillas and gorditas, are not included in the list below due to the saturated fat content of the item.
Sodium in Taco Bell’s High-Protein Menu Items
It is important to recognize that many of the high-protein Taco Bell menu items 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 Taco Bell® website. Menu options and nutrition information may change as products are updated. For the most current nutrition information, refer to the Taco Bell website.
High-Protein Taco Bell Burrito Options
Chicken Burrito Supreme®
The Chicken Burrito Supreme® is a lean protein option for athletes at Taco Bell. The burrito includes grilled chicken, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream, cheese, and red sauce wrapped in a flour tortilla.
- Chicken Burrito Supreme®: 370 calories, 19 grams of protein
To reduce the saturated fat content of the burrito, athletes should order the burrito “Fresco-style” or request the sour cream be served on the side so they can control the amount added to the burrito.
Athletes can also order the burrito with extra chicken, which will add 9 grams of protein to the meal. The Chicken Burrito Supreme® is a good option for athletes looking for a quick lunch on-the-go.
Steak Burrito Supreme®
For athletes that prefer beef, the Taco Bell Steak Burrito Supreme® is another option for adding protein to their meal. Similar to the chicken burrito, athletes should order the burrito without the sour cream to help reduce the saturated fat content of the burrito.
- Steak Burrito Supreme®: 380 calories, 19 grams of protein
Ordering the burrito with extra steak will boost the protein content of the burrito by 7 grams.
Taco Bell Bean Burrito: Vegetarian Taco Bell Menu Item
Athletes following a vegetarian diet may consider ordering the bean burrito at Taco Bell. The bean burrito comes with refried beans, cheddar cheese, onions, and red sauce. Athletes can add lettuce, tomatoes, as well as guacamole to further boost the nutrient content of the meal.
- Bean Burrito: 350 calories, 13 grams of protein
Ordering the burrito with extra beans will boost the protein content of the burrito by 3 grams. Athletes can also opt to substitute black beans for the refried beans if desired.
High-Protein Taco Bell Tacos
Chicken Soft Taco Supreme®
The Taco Bell Chicken Soft Taco Supreme® is a lean protein taco choice for athletes. The soft taco includes grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream and is served on a flour tortilla. For a healthier choice, athletes should opt for the taco without the sour cream.
- Chicken Soft Taco Supreme®: 190 calories, 13 grams of protein
Similar to the chicken burrito, athletes can order extra chicken on the taco, which will add 8 grams of protein to the taco.
Steak Soft Taco Supreme®
Athletes can also order the Steak Soft Taco Supreme® to enjoy with their meal at Taco Bell. Ordering the taco with extra steak will boost the protein content of the taco by 8 grams.
- Steak Soft Taco Supreme®: 190 calories, 12 grams of protein
If athletes like both steak and chicken, ordering one of each taco would create a meal that provides 25 grams of protein. Topping the tacos with guacamole will add healthy fats as well as fiber to the meal.
High-Protein Taco Bell Power Bowls
Taco Bell now offers a variety of high-protein power bowls. The bowls include grilled chicken or steak, black beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and avocado ranch sauce.
Athlete should order the sour cream and the avocado ranch sauce on the side to help reduce the saturated fat content of the burrito
- Chicken Power Bowl: 460 calories, 26 grams of protein
- Steak Power Bowl: 470 calories, 25 grams of protein
Adding extra chicken or steak to the power bowl will increase the protein content of the meal by 8 grams.
Taco Bell Veggie Power Bowl
Taco Bell also offers a Veggie Power Bowl, which includes the same fixings as above without the chicken or steak. Athletes can order the bowl with extra black beans to further increase the protein content of their bowl.
- Veggie Power Bowl: 420 calories, 12 grams of protein
High-Protein Taco Bell Items for Athletes
You are now set with ideas for high-protein items at Taco Bell that athletes can order to help meet their nutrition needs. As a reminder, along with the items above, make sure to select a healthy side and beverage to enjoy with the meal.
For additional sports nutrition tips for dining out, check out my blog on high-protein options at Chick-fil-A.
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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.