A Nutrition Coach’s 15 BEST High Calorie, Low Protein Foods

Whether you’re an endurance athlete or someone with an active lifestyle, you need energy-dense foods to feel and perform your best.

If you’re looking for more high-calorie, low-protein foods, I’ve got you covered with these 15 versatile, nutrient-dense recommendations to keep you fueled from breakfast to your bedtime snack.

Key Takeaways

  • Most grains, sugars, syrups, dried fruits, and oils are high in calories and low in protein.
  • Add energy-dense sauces, toppings, or mix-ins to your meals, or combine these foods to make high-calorie snack mixes.
  • Legumes like beans, edamame, and quinoa are higher in protein than you might expect, so consider replacing them with lower-protein options like rice or potatoes.

What Defines A Food High In Calories and Low In Protein?

Defining High-Calorie

There’s no standard definition of a high-calorie food. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a low-calorie food provides less than 40 calories (kcal) in a 30-gram (g) serving.

So, a high-calorie food should provide much more than 40 kcal per 30 g serving.  

Defining Low-Protein

While there’s no standard definition of a low-protein food, the lowest recommended level of protein intake is 10% of your daily calories, so these foods contain no more than 15% calories from protein.

What Makes These the Best High-Calorie, Low-Protein Foods?

These are some of the best options because, in addition to being high in calories and low in protein, they’re also nutrient-dense, versatile, and convenient. 

  • Some provide carbohydrates for quick energy, while others are high in heart-healthy fats. 

They’re also tasty, which is just as important!

Foods High In Calories But Low In Protein

1. Breakfast Cereal

Cereal is one of the most common breakfast foods available. It’s quick and easy to make or take on-the-go, and you can opt for a hot cereal on those colder mornings.

Cereals are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, and whole grain cereals, like oatmeal, provide fiber as well. 

Although cereals vary, two cups of cereal (about 100 g) will provide roughly the following:

  • Calories: 376 kcal
  • Carbs: 90 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Fat: 0 g

To keep the protein content low, have it with a low-protein, plant-based milk alternative like almond milk or coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. 

2. Bagels

Bagels are another common breakfast option that pack plenty of calories and carbohydrates.

As an added bonus, their sturdiness makes them portable for snacking on-the-go. They come in a variety of flavors, but the average medium bagel (about 100 g) will give you:

  • Calories: 273
  • Carbs: 56 g
  • Protein: 10 g
  • Fat: 1 g

At 14% calories from protein, they’re just under the low-protein threshold, so top them with jam, honey, or butter for some extra calories without added protein. 

3. Pancakes & Waffles

Pancakes & Waffles

I promise that this article isn’t dedicated entirely to breakfast foods, but pancakes and waffles are too versatile and tasty to leave off the list! 

Pancakes and waffles can be made with different ingredients to meet a range of fat and calorie goals, so the nutrition facts will vary. Waffles tend to be a little higher in fat. You can expect roughly the following from pancakes or waffles:

Two Medium Pancakes (200 g)

  • Calories: 556
  • Carbs: 100 g
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Fat: 12 g

Two Large Waffles (200 g)

  • Calories: 606
  • Carbs: 90 g
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Fat: 22 g

They can be topped with a variety of high-calorie, low-protein foods like butter, syrup, honey, or jam. If you make them at home, you can add high-calorie mix-ins, like chocolate chips. 

4. Honey & Syrup

Honey & Syrup

Honey is an excellent sweetener to add to your morning tea, hot cereal, or peanut butter sandwich! Two tablespoons (about 40 g) of honey will provide:

  • Calories: 136
  • Carbs: 34 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Fat: 0 g

Honey is high in fructose, which can cause gastrointestinal distress in some people when eaten in the amount you’d get from two tablespoons of honey. If that’s the case for you, consider using smaller amounts throughout the day.

Fortunately, there are some alternatives to honey that would be less likely to cause digestive discomfort while providing plenty of calories and carbs.

Maple syrup, date syrup, and golden syrup are nutritionally similar to honey (and might be tastier on your pancakes).

5. Sugar


Sugar is an easy way to add calories without adding protein, and it’s an immediate source of energy since it’s digested and absorbed so quickly. In just two tablespoons(about 40 g) you will get:

  • Calories: 104
  • Carbs: 26
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Fat: 0 g

Whether you choose brown sugar, turbinado sugar, or white sugar, the nutrition will be about the same, though they all offer unique flavors to mix into your coffee, smoothie, or hot cereal.

6. Jams & Jellies

Jams & Jellies

Jellies and jams are great ways to add a burst of flavor and some extra calories without any protein at all. In only two tablespoons (about 40 g) of jam or jelly, you can expect to get:

  • Calories: 104
  • Carbs: 26g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Fat: 0 g

You might be surprised at how small this two-tablespoon serving looks on your bagel or peanut butter sandwich, so apply it generously and enjoy the added flavor and energy!

7. Dried Fruit

dried fruit

Fresh fruit isn’t an energy-dense food, but dried fruits pack plenty of carbohydrates into small, tasty morsels by removing most of the water content. This condenses the carbohydrates and makes the fruit more shelf-stable.  

The nutrient content will vary depending on the type of fruit, but as an example, a half-cup serving (or about 80 g) of raisins would give you:

  • Calories: 244
  • Carbs: 60 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Fat: 0 g

Dried fruits are portable and convenient. They also provide small amounts of fiber and various vitamins, making them a bit more nutritious than sugars or jams but just as sweet. For example, dates can replace the sugar and oil in baked goods!  

8. Plantains


Plantains are nutrient-dense carb sources that also provide fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C. In one cup (about 150 grams) of sliced plantains, you’ll find:

  • Calories: 244
  • Carbohydrates: 60 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Fat: 0 g

Plantains can be eaten at various stages of ripeness that offer different flavor profiles. When they’re green, they can be fried or boiled like potatoes. As they ripen, they become sweeter and can be used like bananas in baked goods and desserts. You can also add other high-calorie foods, like oil, when preparing them.

9. Potatoes


Potatoes are an excellent source of complex carbs with plenty of potassium and some fiber in the skin. A medium potato (about 150 g), will provide:

  • Calories: 116
  • Carbs: 26 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fat: 0 g

Potatoes are extremely versatile, and it’s easy to add other high-calorie foods like butter, oil, or cheese when boiling, roasting, mashing, or frying them. Some runners will even eat boiled, salted potatoes during their race to provide quick energy! 

10. Rice

Rice is a staple food in many cultures, and it’s both versatile and high in carbohydrates. One cup of cooked rice (about 200 g) contains:

  • Calories: 196
  • Carbohydrates: 45 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Fat: 0 g

Much like potatoes and plantains, rice can be used in sweet or savory dishes, and often serves as a platform for various high-calorie toppings, like curries made with coconut milk. It also boosts burritos, and can replace beans for a lower-protein carb source.

11. Oils

Oils consist entirely of fat, making them one of the most energy-dense foods available. Oils that are liquid at room temperature, like olive, canola, or flaxseed oil, are good sources of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which support cardiovascular health.

In just two tablespoons of oil (about 30 g), you’ll get:

  • Calories: 252
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Fat: 28 g

Oils can be added to veggies, potatoes, sauces, and smoothies to add more flavor, creamy texture, and plenty of extra calories.

Butter and coconut oil have similar properties, but they’re much higher in saturated fats, so it’s best to use these in moderation.

12. Avocado


Avocados are nutrient-dense powerhouses! They’re great sources of monounsaturated fats, and they’re also rich in potassium, fiber, and fat-soluble vitamins. They contain some carbohydrates and very little protein. One medium-sized avocado (roughly 175 g) provides:

  • Calories: 262
  • Carbs: 13 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fat: 22 g

Avocado’s light flavor and creamy texture make it a perfect addition to smoothies. It’s also an excellent plant-based replacement for mayonnaise on sandwiches or butter in baked goods.

Plus: guacamole! Pair it with some tortilla chips and you have a delicious, energy-dense snack.

13. Pretzels


Like many snack foods, pretzels are convenient, portable, and tasty. They offer a quick boost of carbohydrates with minimal fat and protein. In a half-cup serving (about 60 g) you’ll get:

  • Calories: 226
  • Carbs: 47 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Fat: 2 g

Pretzels also pair well with energy-dense dips like guacamole, peanut butter, or hummus. They can be high in sodium, however, so should be enjoyed in moderation if you’re watching your intake.

However, the added salt can be beneficial for endurance athletes replenishing electrolytes!  

14. Granola


Granola is a flavorful, energy-dense snack made from oats, nuts, seeds, and sticky sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. Sometimes they contain oils, dried fruits, or chocolate.

The oats provide some fiber, and the nuts and seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The nutrient content varies, but on average, a half-cup serving of granola contains:

  • Calories: 268
  • Carbs: 35 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Fat: 12 g

Some store-bought granola might be higher in protein, so opt for one that includes primarily grains and fruits rather than nut and seed-based options. Granola can also be added to your morning cereal or mixed with those pretzels for a sweet, salty snack. 

15. Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate

When it comes to tasty, versatile, energy-dense foods, we can’t ignore dark chocolate! It provides some antioxidants, minerals, and unsaturated fats (but most of the fats are saturated, so it’s still something to enjoy in moderation.) 

Two ounces (about 60 g) of 70% dark chocolate contains:

  • Calories: 220
  • Carbs: 26 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Fat: 12 g

Dark chocolate can be enjoyed on its own, of course, but it’s also a perfect mix-in for granola, and can also be paired with dried fruit and pretzels for a satisfying snack.

Wholesome High-Calorie, Low-Protein Recipes

Need some inspiration to go with these recommendations? We’ve got you covered with these recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a tasty snack.

Breakfast: Chocolate Chip Pancakes

chocolate chip pancakes


  • ½ cup pancake mix
  • 2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
  • Cooking spray or canola oil
  • Optional toppings: butter, maple syrup, granola, walnuts, or additional chocolate chips


  1. Prepare the pancake mix according to the package instructions.
  2. Stir in dark chocolate chips.
  3. Heat a pan with a small amount of cooking spray or canola oil.
  4. Pour pancake batter onto the pan, about ¼ cup at a time. Allow the pancakes to cook on one side until you see bubbles forming on the surface, and the edges start to look set. This usually takes about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Once you see the bubbles and the edges are set, carefully flip the pancakes using a spatula. Cook the other side for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown and the pancakes are cooked through.
  6. Serve the pancakes with your favorite toppings!

Lunch: Avocado and Tomato Salad

Avocado and Tomato Salad


  • ½ avocado, cubed
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup cucumber, sliced
  • ¼ cup black or Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. In a bowl, combine the diced avocado, tomatoes, cucumber, and olives.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and spices as desired.
  3. Gently toss everything together to ensure that the vinaigrette coats all the ingredients evenly.
  4. Serve this refreshing salad as a side dish to rice topped with your favorite protein source.

Dinner: Plantain and Potato Hash

Plantain and Potato Hash


  • 1 plantain, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • Cooking spray or canola oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Peel and dice the plantains and potatoes.
  2. Heat a skillet with a small amount of oil over medium heat.
  3. Add the diced plantains and potatoes to the skillet.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Cook until the plantains and potatoes are tender and slightly crispy, stirring occasionally. This should take about 10-12 minutes.
  6. If desired, add some dried fruit, such as raisins or dried cherries, for extra flavor and sweetness.
  7. Serve the plantain and potato hash with slices of grilled or pan-fried extra-firm tofu as a lean protein source.

Snack: Sweet and Salty Granola

Sweet and Salty Granola


  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup snack pretzels, broken into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (e.g., dried cranberries, raisins, dried cherries)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt


  1. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Mix together the rolled oats, broken pretzels, dark chocolate chunks, and dried fruit in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate microwave-safe bowl, gently warm the maple syrup for about 20-30 seconds until it’s slightly warm.
  4. To the warm maple syrup, add the canola oil (or olive oil), vanilla extract, and a small pinch of salt. Stir well to combine the wet ingredients.
  5. Pour the syrup mixture over the dry oat mixture and stir until everything is evenly coated.
  6. Transfer the granola mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it into an even layer using a spatula.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the granola becomes golden brown. Stir the granola every 10 minutes for even cooking.
  8. Remove the granola from the oven and allow it to cool completely on the baking sheet, where it will continue to crisp up as it cools.
  9. Store your homemade granola in an airtight container at room temperature once it’s fully cooled. It will remain fresh for several weeks.
  10. Enjoy your granola with milk or yogurt for breakfast or as a snack straight from the container.

Tips on How To Increase Calories Without Increasing Protein

tips on how to increase calories without increasing protein

Here are some of the tips to help you pick even more high-calorie, low-protein foods:

Go For The Grains

Most grains contain very little fat and protein while providing plenty of calories from carbohydrates. You can choose less refined options, like rolled oats, but if you’re looking for something more energy-dense, aim for bread, rice, or pasta.  

Sweeten It Up

Sugar, syrup, honey, and jam are all energy-dense and low in protein. They add quick carbs and sweetness to a variety of different foods, making it easy to bump up your energy intake without feeling uncomfortably full.

Use Fats for Flavor

High-fat foods like avocado, olive oil, and dark chocolate can add calories and flavor to your meals. Olive oil is ideal for drizzling over roast vegetables, avocado can boost your morning smoothie, and dark chocolate adds decadence to baked goods and granola. 

Limit Legumes (But, Don’t Avoid)

 Beans, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, peanuts, and quinoa are nutritious sources of complex carbohydrates and fiber, but they’re also higher in protein than grains or root vegetables. 

Reasons To Include High-Calorie Foods With Low Protein In Your Diet

Fueling Endurance Sports

Endurance athletes, like marathon runners or cyclists, push the limits of energy expenditure with their long training sessions.

In addition to fueling with carbohydrates during their workouts, they need high-calorie, carb-dense meals to replenish their glycogen stores afterward.

Some endurance athletes practice “carb loading,” or eating a very high-carb, low-fat, low-protein diet in the few days leading up to a competition in order to maximize their glycogen stores.  

Highly Active Careers

People in certain careers — like construction workers, firefighters, landscapers, mail carriers, personal trainers, and first responders — expend a lot of energy on the job.

They may also deal with unpredictable mealtimes that make it a challenge to get enough calories and carbohydrates throughout the day. 

Many of these foods can be paired with convenient protein sources, like protein shakes, for a quick, portable, energy-dense meal.

Weight Gain Goals

People often ask me for advice about ways to eat more without feeling too full. Whether the goal is to gain more muscle or add weight in general, eating can become a chore! No one wants to put their lifting belt on when they already feel uncomfortably full. 

Since these foods are so energy-dense, they provide plenty of calories without being too filling, and many are also high in carbs to fuel intense training sessions. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any health risks associated with consuming high-calorie, low-protein foods?

When added to a prudent dietary pattern that provides enough protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, there are no risks associated with eating these foods in moderation. 

A protein-deficient diet, however, could lead to muscle loss and weakness, as protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. It could also lead to nutrient deficiencies since protein-rich foods often contain other essential nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and zinc.

Can high-calorie, low-protein foods be part of a balanced diet?

Of course! High-calorie, low-protein foods can be incorporated into a balanced diet when consumed in moderation. For instance, avocados and nuts are high in calories and relatively low in protein, but they’re also rich in healthy fats and other nutrients. 

Balance these foods with a variety of protein sources, fruits, and vegetables, to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Other High-Calorie Foods

Check out our other high-calorie food lists:


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About The Author

Gabrielle Fundaro

Gabrielle Fundaro is an ACE-certified Health Coach trained in motivational interviewing, sport nutrition, and the Monash Low-FODMAP program. A former Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Georgia Gwinnett College, she holds a Ph.D. in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise from Virginia Tech as well as a BS in Exercise, Sport, and Health Education from Radford University.

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