Running around town on a busy day? Need a fast meal or snack after a long evening at work? While preparing food at home gives you the most control over ingredients and nutrition, there are inevitably times that you may find yourself swinging by a fast food joint to grab a quick bite. If you find yourself heading to Taco Bell, the dietitian-selected options below are top picks for runners.
And of course (because someone out there is getting ready to troll this article) – no one is saying that you should eat fast food daily. A balanced diet focused on nutrient-dense foods with lots of produce remains the foundation of a performance-enhancing eating plan for runners.
However, as a dietitian and running coach, I’m also a realist. I know that there are times I end up at a fast-food restaurant out of convenience or simple enjoyment. And some folks may be utilizing Taco Bell for affordability and accessibility reasons.
In all these cases, it can be helpful to have a cheat-sheet of options to fuel your fitness. Here are my top picks:
- Power Menu Bowl (Chicken or Steak)
- Fiesta Veggie Burrito (Value Menu), Skip the Sour Cream and Tortilla Strips
- Spicy Potato Soft Taco (Value Menu) Plus Tomato, Onion, and Jalapeno
- Pintos and Cheese
- Black Beans and Rice
- Soft Taco with Chicken Plus Tomato, Onion, and Jalapeno
Let’s dig into each one…
Disclaimer: The information below was compiled by Chrissy Carroll, RD, RRCA Running Coach, using Taco Bell’s website and nutrition calculator. Restaurant formulations can change at any time. Always double check the restaurant’s nutrition facts and ingredients if you have any specific dietary needs.
1. Power Menu Bowl – Chicken or Steak
The Power Menu Bowl is a balanced meal featuring seasoned rice, black beans, grilled chicken or steak, lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, guac, reduced-fat sour cream, and avocado ranch sauce. Price wise, it’ll clock in a little under $7.
When it comes to benefits for runners, this dish provides some carbohydrates to fuel workouts, and quite a bit of protein to support muscle repair and recovery. In fact, the chicken version packs in 26 grams of protein, and the steak version packs in 25 grams of protein.
Bonus: it also provides 700 milligrams of potassium, a key electrolyte that’s involved in muscle contractions and blood pressure regulation (and that we lose a little in sweat during a workout)!
Nutrition (chicken): 460 calories, 21 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 1250 mg sodium, 41 g carbohydrate, 8 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 26 g protein, Vitamin D: 0%, Calcium: 10%, Iron: 10%, Potassium: 15%
Nutrition (steak): 470 calories, 23 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 1280 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrate, 8 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 25 g protein, Vitamin D: 0%, Calcium: 15%, Iron: 15%, Potassium: 15%
2. Fiesta Veggie Burrito (Value Menu), Skip the Sour Cream and Tortilla Strips
The Fiesta Veggie Burrito rings in at only $2, and comes with seasoned rice, black beans, tortilla strips, chipotle sauce, reduced-fat sour cream, a three-cheese blend, tomatoes, and guac.
My personal modifications are to remove the sour cream (since you already have guac and chipotle sauce, I find it’s got enough creamy elements) and skip the tortilla strips (sometimes these can get a little soggy if you’re getting takeout and have a bit of a car ride until you eat so I leave ’em off).
The result is a filling meal, providing carbohydrates for energy for your runs, and also treating your body to 8 grams of digestive-friendly fiber. And it’s one of the most flavor-packed fast food vegetarian options out there.
Nutrition (without sour cream and tortilla strips): 470 calories, 23 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 54 g carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 13 g protein, Vitamin D: 0%, Calcium: 20%, Iron: 20%, Potassium: 8%
3. Spicy Potato Soft Taco (Value Menu) Plus Veggies
Probably my favorite item when it comes to taste, the spicy potato soft taco is packed with flavor (but light in calories). It features a flour tortilla with potatoes, cheddar cheese, chipotle sauce, and lettuce.
The base item is only $1, but I like to add jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes for a little boost of veggies, which brings the cost to $2.85. Feel free to leave the jalapenos off if you’re not a fan of spice; they definitely pack a punch.
This is a great on-the-run snack option, providing 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and only 2 grams of sugar. Or, add a side of pintos with cheese to round out a full vegetarian meal.
Nutrition (with added veggies): 250 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 800 mg sodium, 30 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 6 g protein, Vitamin D: 0%, Calcium: 10%, Iron: 8%, Potassium: 8%
**Quick hack: You can also add a serving of seasoned beef to this taco, which adds 70 calories and 5 extra grams of protein.**
4. Pintos and Cheese
Beans, red sauce, and cheese – what could be better?! This simple pintos and cheese side from Taco Bell is a great on-the-go snack, or can be paired with a taco or burrito to round out a meal.
Plus, beans are amazing for providing digestive-friendly fiber. In fact, this small side dish packs in 9 grams of fiber!
Nutrition: 170 calories, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 640 mg sodium, 20 g carbohydrate, 9 g fiber, Vitamin D: 0%, Calcium: 10%, Iron: 10%, Potassium: 8%
5. Black Beans and Rice
Another bean-based side, the black beans and rice dish is perfect for a snack or to round out a meal. It’s inexpensive – just $2.39 – and packs in 5 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein. Black beans are also rich in antioxidants, so they’re a nice option to include in your diet regularly.
Nutrition: 160 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 370 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, <1 g sugar, 4 g protein, Vitamin D: 0%, Calcium: 2%, Iron: 8%, Potassium: 4%
6. Soft Taco with Chicken with Added Veggies
The standard soft taco comes with your choice of protein (chicken or beef), cheese, and lettuce, in a flour tortilla. I like the chicken option, as it offers slightly more protein.
The base is $2.74, but I like to add some extra veggies to mine – tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos – which knocks up the price a smidge to $4.59. Again, feel free to skip those jalapenos if you don’t want the spice.
Nutrition (with added veggies): 170 calories, 5 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 830 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 13 g protein, Vitamin D: 0%, Calcium: 10%, Iron: 6%, Potassium: 6%
**Quick tip: Double up on two soft chicken tacos with the added veggies, plus a side of plain black beans, for a protein-packed meal that all athletes will love!**
There you have it – the best Taco Bell menu items for runners! Which of these will you be digging into next time you hit up Taco Bell?
Feel free to pin this post to share with others!