This healthy pasta salad is PACKED with protein, antioxidants, and refreshing flavor. It can easily be made gluten-free, vegan, or dairy-free. It’s the perfect nutritious, clean-eating recipe for summer.
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I have made different variations of this high protein pasta salad for the past two years. This one is my absolute favorite.
Not only does it taste refreshing, clean, and amazing, it also makes me feel good.
And it’s good for me! It’s loaded with protein, antioxidants, fiber, and heart-healthy fats.
The Perfect Recovery Meal
Two years ago, my partner and I ran our very first half marathon. I was very out-of-shape at the time, but wanted to return to my old healthy habits and views.
For several years, I ate very clean. I LOVED to work out. I appreciated my body for all the amazing things it could do for me, instead of beating it up for how it looked or because it couldn’t fit into wardrobe on set.
In hindsight, I was making incredible progress in all ways. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see that progress. I fell off track HARD.
I signed up for the Horseback Half Marathon when I was, possibly, in the worst shape of my life.
Flash forward to the day before the half marathon, I knew I didn’t train or properly fuel my body in the ways that I should have and wanted to. I knew I was going to be in A LOT of pain the next day, but I was determined to finish.
And, I did!! Woo woo!
But, I wanted to make the perfect recovery meal for after the race. I also wanted something that tasted great. After lots of research, I created this –
Healthy, High Protein Pasta Salad
Chicken, chickpeas, and fresh mozzarella cheese provide LOTS of protein. Protein is essential to recovery after a strenuous workout, like running 13.1 miles.
For another high protein treat, check out my Peanut Butter Protein Bites with Blueberries.
It helps to repair and rebuild the muscle fibers that are damaged during exercise. This process is what makes us stronger… and also causes that dreaded soreness.
Surprisingly, we weren’t that sore in the days after the race. Toward the end of the race, immediately after, and that night… Well, that’s a different story. We could barely walk. 😂
I fully credit this Healthy, High Protein Pasta Salad and a good night’s sleep for recovering so quickly and feeling so great the morning after the half marathon.
Other Benefits of this Healthy, High Protein Pasta Salad
This pasta salad is an easy, nutritious, well-balanced meal that will keep you full and satisfied.
Each ingredient provides its own health benefits.
Avocados are packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, and other nutrients that our bodies need. They also help our bodies “better absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K”, according to the Cedars Sinai Blog.
Extra virgin olive oil also has heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. And it’s loaded with powerful antioxidants. You can read more about its proven benefits HERE.
Crunchy cucumbers and juicy tomatoes also contain antioxidants.
According to this Healthline article, “Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer”.
In addition to antioxidants, cucumbers “contain a good amount of water and soluble fiber, making them ideal for promoting hydration and aiding in weight loss”.
Chickpeas are packed with protein, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. You can read more about their health benefits HERE.
Spinach is also loaded with nutrients and antioxidants. According to this Healthline article, “Eating spinach may benefit eye health, reduce oxidative stress, help prevent cancer, and reduce blood pressure levels”.
Tips for Making Healthy, High Protein Pasta Salad
- Cook the pasta al dente. Otherwise, the pasta may become mushy. There’s nothing refreshing about a soggy pasta salad.
- If you would like to include salt, add it to the boiling water that you’ll cook the pasta in. Adding it at the end could result in the salt releasing the water from the vegetables. If this happens, the high protein pasta salad could become runny and soggy. Yuck!
- Use cherry or grape tomatoes, not regular tomatoes. Regular tomatoes become mushy and leak everywhere. Cherry and grape tomatoes stay fresh with a nice crunch and burst of juice during that first bite.
- I use a Spinach and Spring Mix Blend in this recipe. This is because I have hypothyroidism and need to limit my consumption of goitrogenic foods like spinach. You can just add spinach though. Or spring mix. Do what’s right for you!
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Make it Gluten-Free, Vegan, or Dairy-Free
To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta. That’s what I did. You could add even more protein, and stay gluten-free, by using chickpea pasta.
To make this recipe vegan, use vegan mozzarella cheese and replace the chicken with more chickpeas. Chickpeas are a great source of plant-based protein.
To make this recipe dairy-free, use dairy-free mozzarella cheese.
Can I make it ahead of time?
Yes, of course. You can definitely make this protein-packed pasta salad the day before you serve it. BUT, I would wait to add the avocado until the day of.
After a day or two, exposed avocado starts to turn brown. To prevent this from happening and making your yummy salad look unappealing, please wait to add the avocado until right before serving.
How to Store this Healthy, High Protein Pasta Salad
Store in an airtight container in the fridge. These Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls with Airtight Lids are PERFECT for tossing and storing this pasta salad (and more!). They have non-slip silicone bottoms, so they don’t slide away while mixing. They also include measurement lines inside!
The pasta salad keeps for a couple days in the fridge. Unfortunately, because the avocado starts to turn brown, it’s not recommended to keep it longer than that.
You could, of course, omit the avocado. This would allow the leftovers to last longer in the fridge.
You could also try adding some lemon or lime juice to the high protein pasta salad.
According to the California Avocado Commission, “Citric acid keeps fruit from browning because it is full of ascorbic acid. The oxygen reacts with the ascorbic acid before the avocado itself”.
I frequently put fresh lime juice in guacamole. It tastes sooo good. But, I’ve also noticed that the guacamole takes longer to turn brown when I add the juice.
1 box of your favorite Pasta (I used gluten-free penne)
1 can (15.5 oz.) of Chickpeas
2 large Boneless Chicken Breasts, cooked however you prefer
1.5 cups Grape Tomatoes, sliced in halves
2 cups Chopped Cucumber (I used most of a long English cucumber)
8 oz. Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (I used Belgioioso Fresh Mozzarella Pearl Cheese)
1 Avocado, diced
1/2 heaping cup Fresh Basil (so a tad more than 1/2 cup)
1 cup Baby Spinach and Spring Mix Blend, packed
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pepper to taste
How to Make Healthy, High Protein Pasta Salad
- In a large pot, cook the pasta until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain then set aside.
- Cook the chicken however you prefer. I baked my chicken in the oven then pulled it apart with a fork. You could grill yours. Or cook it on the stove top. Just please don’t fry it. 😂 We want to keep the dish healthy!
- While the pasta and chicken are cooking, prepare the other ingredients. Open and drain the can of chickpeas. Slice the tomatoes. Chop the cucumbers. Dice the avocado. Etc.
- Transfer the cooled pasta to a large bowl.
- Slice or shred the cooked chicken breasts. Add them to the bowl as well.
- Continue to add the chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella, avocado, basil, and the spinach and spring mix blend.
- Gently toss to combine.
- Add the extra virgin olive oil. Mix until everything is distributed evenly.
- Pepper to taste. I would not recommend adding salt because it may release the juices in the vegetables. This would create a runny, soggy salad.
- Serve right away or chill before serving.
Enjoy your Healthy, High Protein Pasta Salad!
I’d love to hear how yours came out and if you made any substitutions.