Panda Express: High-Protein Options for Athletes
Panda Express is a popular Chinese fast-food restaurant that athletes often stop at for a quick meal on-the-go. It can be helpful for athletes to know which menu items at Panda Express are high in protein and can support their sports nutrition needs.
Let’s take a look at the protein needs of athletes. Then we will explore the Panda Express menu and identify items that are high in protein.
Protein Needs of Athletes
Protein is an important nutrient in an athlete’s meal plan. It has many essential roles in the body, including supporting athletes with the building of lean muscle mass.
To get the most benefit from protein intake, athletes are encouraged to consume protein throughout the day with meals and snacks. In regard to serving size, athletes should aim to eat ~0.25 grams of protein per kg body weight at each eating occasion (1).
This calculates to be in the range of 20-40 grams of protein (1) at each meal/snack, with larger athletes needing more protein than smaller athletes.
Building a Healthy Meal for Athletes
In addition to protein, athletes should focus on including foods in their meals that provide a good source of carbohydrates and that are limited in saturated fat.
With the meal, athletes should enjoy a nutritious beverage, such as water, low-fat milk, or 100% fruit/vegetable juice, to support their hydration needs.
What is Panda Express?
Panda Express is a fast-food restaurant chain that specializes in serving Chinese food with an American taste. According to the Panda Express® website, the restaurant is committed to serving fresh vegetables and uses wok-style cooking to enhance the flavor of their meals.
Panda Express has developed a healthy menu classification system for their menu items, called “Wok Smart.” Menu items labeled as Wok Smart contain 300 calories or less and at least 8 grams of protein. Athletes looking for lower-calorie options to support weight loss, may consider the Wok Smart selections when ordering their meals.
All the nutrition information included in this article comes from the Panda Express® website. Menu options and nutrition information may change as products are updated. For the most current nutrition information, refer to the Panda Express website.
Panda Express High-Protein Options
Panda Express offers a variety of high-protein entrees that athletes can enjoy as part of their meal. When selecting an entrée, athletes should choose items providing a good source of protein and containing limited amounts of saturated fat.
Below are entree options containing chicken, beef, seafood, and tofu that athletes can enjoy at Panda Express to help meet their protein needs.
High-Protein Chicken Entrees at Panda Express
Chicken entrée items at Panda Express that are good options for athletes include:
- Grilled Teriyaki Chicken (6 oz): 33 grams protein, 3 grams saturated fat
- Grilled Asian Chicken (6 oz): 33 grams protein, 3 grams saturated fat
- Teriyaki Chicken (6 oz): 41 grams protein, 3.5 grams saturated fat
- Kung Pao Chicken (6.2 oz): 16 grams protein, 3.5 grams saturated fat (Wok Smart entrée)
High-Protein Beef Entrees at Panda Express
Beef entrée items at Panda Express that are good options for athletes include:
- Black Pepper Angus Steak (5.1 oz): 19 grams protein, 2.5 grams saturated fat
- Broccoli Beef is another nutritious beef option for athletes at Panda Express. A 5.4 oz serving contains 9 grams of protein and 1.5 grams saturated fat. If an athlete selects this entrée, I would encourage ordering a double-serving to support the athlete’s protein needs.
High-Protein Seafood and Vegetarian Entrees at Panda Express
Seafood and vegetarian entrée items at Panda Express that are good options for athletes include:
- Wok Fired Shrimp (6 oz): 17 grams protein, 1-gram saturated fat
- Steamed Ginger Fish (6 oz): 15 grams protein, 2.5 grams saturated fat
- Eggplant Tofu (6.1 oz): 7 grams protein, 3.5 grams saturated fat
Similar to the Broccoli Beef, athletes that order the Eggplant Tofu should order a double-serving to support their protein needs. Enjoying the Eggplant Tofu with a side of brown steamed rice or chow mein will further increase the protein content of the meal.
Healthy Side Options at Panda Express
Athletes should select a healthy side to enjoy with their high-protein entrée at Panda Express. A nutritious side can help athletes increase the carbohydrate content of the meal. In addition, the super greens can be a great way to add vegetables to the meal.
- Hot and Sour Soup (bowl): 20 grams carbs, 10 grams protein, 1-gram saturated fat
- Brown Steamed Rice (10.4 oz serving): 86 grams carbs, 9 grams protein, 1-gram saturated fat
- Chow Mein (9.4 oz serving): 80 grams carbs, 13 grams protein, 3.5 grams saturated fat
- Super Greens (7 oz serving): 10 grams carbs, 6 grams protein, 0 grams saturated fat
High-Protein Meals at Panda Express
Panda Express offers patrons the opportunity to create meals of varying sizes, including:
- Bowl: 1 entrée plus 1 side
- Plate: 2 entrees plus 1 side
- Bigger Plate: 3 entrees plus 1 side
Combining the high-protein entrees along with a healthy side choice will allow athletes to build a meal that meets their protein needs.
Catering High-Protein Team Meals from Panda Express
Athletic teams can utilize Panda Express to cater post-game team meals. Teams can order catering-size trays of the high-protein entrée options identified above. In addition, teams should order the brown rice or chow mein for a high carbohydrate side, as well as super greens for athletes to enjoy with the meal.
Panda Express: High Protein Options for Athletes
You are now set with ideas for ordering a high protein meal at Panda Express that supports the sports nutrition needs of athletes.
Join the Nutrition By Mandy Email List & Get a Free Athlete’s Grocery List
Click HERE to join the Nutrition By Mandy e-mail list. When you join you will receive a free athlete’s grocery list to print and take with you to the store.
About the Author
Mandy 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. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.