Oatmeal with a Protein Boost: Powder and Non-Powder Options

Breakfast is often hailed as the most important meal of the day, and for good reason. It sets the tone for your body’s metabolism and energy levels. However, often when I hear patients say they eat oatmeal for breakfast, part of me is concerned they are missing out on the benefits of a higher protein breakfast. Enter the powerhouse combination of oatmeal with a protein boost.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the art of enhancing your oatmeal with protein, exploring both powder and non-powder options to suit every palate and dietary preference. From the versatility of whey protein to the comforting indulgence of nut butter, we explore a myriad ways to elevate your oatmeal game while maximizing its nutritional content.

So, grab your rolled oats and prepare to embark on a delicious journey towards a healthier, more satisfying breakfast experience. Because with the right combination of protein and oatmeal, you’ll be primed to conquer whatever the day throws your way.

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Versatile Oatmeal

Oatmeal is an extremely versatile and easy breakfast. It is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. It benefits our heart health and digestive health. It provides us with sustained energy, has a low glycemic index and can be beneficial for blood sugar control and weight management. It even has beta glucans, which can support the immune system, and if you are a lactating mamma, breast milk production.

All of this and it is super versatile, convenient, and affordable! So why would we want to add protein to it? Oats on their own are about 11-15% protein. But one cup of cooked oats only amounts to about 6 grams of protein. This falls short if we are shooting for a high protein breakfast.

Protein for Breakfast

Starting your day with a protein-rich breakfast not only provides your body with essential nutrients but also sets the stage for sustained energy levels and improved focus throughout the day. You will feel fuller longer, lessening struggles with appetite during those hours before lunch when are often the busiest. Whether you’re looking to fuel up before a busy day at work, crush a morning workout, or simply maintain a balanced diet, adding protein to your breakfast routine can make a world of difference. And what better way to do so than by infusing your morning bowl of oatmeal with a boost of protein?

Using Protein Powders In Oatmeal

Using a protein powder to up the protein in your bowl of oatmeal is a powerful way to get a hefty dose of protein. 20-30g of protein at a meal is an ideal amount to support lean body mass development and even mental health. It can be challenging to get there if you are not eating meat at a meal. Protein powders can make it quick and easy.

There is a whole world of options when it comes to protein powders these days. With one for every diet and flavor preference, you may find your head spinning deciding which one to try. When it comes to what you’d want to use in your oatmeal, here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you want to add flavor or sweetness to your oatmeal?
    • Protein powders are typically unflavored, vanilla, chocolate, or rarely some other flavor. Using a flavored one will obviously impart that flavor into your oatmeal.
    • Sweeteners may or may not be added to the protein powder, so maybe if you like some extra sweetness in your oatmeal using a sweetened protein powder will be enough to do the trick and save you any extra steps to sweeten it. Just keep in mind that if there is sweetener, it can have an aftertaste. So choose one that you know you like the taste of.
  • Are you trying to keep the carbs low?
    • Oatmeal is a carbohydrate food, so you may want to keep the added carbs low by choosing a protein powder that is low in carbohydrates.
    • Protein isolates are lower in carbohydrate compared to their non-isolate versions (whey vs whey protein isolate, pea protein vs pea protein isolate, for example).
      • For example, pea protein typically comes in either an isolate or concentrate form. The isolate form has undergone further processing that eliminates carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and other nutrients. This keeps the calories low, but also technically makes it an ‘ultra-processed’ food, typically something we avoid. However, we aren’t stripping away everything but sugar, so I would argue it is not bad in the way most ultra-processed foods are. That said, if you prefer to consume the whole food form, go for the pea protein concentrate that retains fiber, carbohydrates, fats, and nutrients.
      • The flavor between isolate and concentrate differ because of the differences in processing, as you can imagine.
  • Would you like something with added vitamins and minerals?
    • Some protein powders are a shake mix, complete with vitamins, minerals, and possibly other ingredients that make it something with added nutritional value. This can really take your oatmeal breakfast to the next level in terms of how you are fueling the start to your day.
  • What is the source of your protein?
    • If you have any diet restrictions such as vegan, soy free, lactose free, etc., you will of course be taking this into account when you choose your protein powder. If you are looking for more information about this, you may want to check out the post ‘Soy, Whey, Pea, Hemp? An RD’s Input on Protein Powders.’

Good Protein Powder Options To Try

Below are some various types of protein powders you might like to try using with your morning oatmeal. These products utilize third party testing which is something to look out for when buying any supplement as supplements are a minimally regulated industry.

In addition to third party testing, I calculated the cost per 20 grams of protein as a means of assessing value as well. This cost is based on the current prices of the products as found in my Full Script supplement store at the time of this writing with a 10% discount that is available when you create an account. You probably would not be surprised to find that some of the popular protein powders that may appear in ads on social media, for example, can cost up over $5 per 20 grams. Of course, the products below are just the protein. None of them have the added ingredients that some products designed to be more of a total meal/snack/supplement are.

Whey Protein Powders

Whey protein isolate powders may be the most effective protein supplement. In research, whey protein isolate has been beneficial in increasing muscle mass and strength, in addition to improving body composition. When compared to placebo, those using 30 grams per day of a whey protein isolate had a greater reduction in waist circumference, body fat percentage, and an increase in skeletal muscle index. Sounds good to me.

Whey Protein Isolate

Thorne is a reputable supplement company with products that are third party tested. They are one of the leading manufacturers of functional nutrition supplements, and they make a great whey protein isolate powder. They only come in vanilla or chocolate, which is something to consider if you will be using this in your oatmeal. When you buy through my Full Script store, you can get a great price on it at ~$1.30/20 grams of protein.

If you prefer an unflavored whey protein isolate, NOW Sports also does third party testing and makes a whey protein isolate that is similarly priced at ~$1.30 per 20 grams of protein when you buy through my Full Script store.

Pea and Pea and Rice Protein Powders

You may notice that a lot of the pea protein based protein powders on the market also contain rice protein. Combining rice and pea protein results in a more optimal amino acid profile compared to pea protein alone. Generally, with plant based foods you want to combined sources to get a full array of amino acids, something that is typically unique to animal protein sources.

While pea protein is a complete protein (meaning that it contains all 9 essential amino acids), it is low in the amino acids cysteine and methionine, and high in lysine. Rice protein complements is well as it is low in lysine, but high in cysteine and methionine. 

NOW Foods Organic Pea Protein is just pea protein in an isolate form, is unflavored, and works well for people with allergies to dairy based products or are vegan. They do third party testing for quality and purity and this product costs considerably less than whey protein isolate at ~$0.80 per 20 grams when you buy through my Full Script store.

Collagen Protein Powders

Before you choose a collagen based protein powder, think about what systems you are trying to support. If you want to potentially see modest benefits in your skin and support connective tissue health, collagen is a good choice. If you are more interested in supporting lean body mass, a whey protein powder is a better choice. If you want to do both, try both at different times of day!

The Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides products did well in Consumer Labs testing and also are one of the most affordable products per gram of protein. They have a lot of interesting and tasty collagen products to keep things interesting as you incorporate more into your diet, but these three probably lend themselves most easily to being added to oatmeal. But if you are having coffee with your oatmeal, you may be interested in checking out some of their "creamers", particularly if you are avoiding dairy and/or added sugars.


Adding Protein to Oatmeal with Other Food Sources

In addition to (or as an alternative to) protein powder options, another delicious and nutritious way to boost the protein content of your oatmeal is by incorporating nuts, seeds, or nut or seed butters. Not only do these ingredients add a satisfying crunch and rich flavor to your morning bowl of oats, but they also provide a healthy dose of protein, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals. Here’s how you can take your oatmeal to the next level with these wholesome additions:

  1. Nuts: Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, and cashews are not only delicious but also packed with protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Simply chop them up (or don't) and sprinkle them over your oatmeal for a crunchy texture and added protein boost. You can also toast the nuts beforehand to enhance their flavor.
  2. Seeds: Seeds like chia seeds or flaxseeds are nutritional powerhouses rich in protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and various vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are high in zinc. Aim for a variety and add them into your oatmeal during cooking or sprinkle them on top for a nutritious crunch.
  3. Nut or Seed Butters: Nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter, as well as seed butters like tahini (made from sesame seeds), are creamy and flavorful additions that also provide a significant protein boost. Simply swirl a spoonful into your oatmeal for a decadent and satisfying breakfast. You can also experiment with different flavored nut or seed butters to add variety to your oatmeal.
  4. Milk: Cooking your oatmeal with milk instead of water boosts the protein content and gives it a more rich flavor.
  5. Soy Milk: Most milk alternatives are relatively low in protein. Soy milk, however, is similar to milk in that it is a complete protein (supplying all of the essential amino acids). So cooking your oatmeal with soy milk instead of water adds protein to oatmeal.
  6. Yogurt or Greek Yogurt: Stirring in a dollop of yogurt or Greek yogurt adds creaminess and a protein boost to your oatmeal.

*Look out for partially hydrogenated oils, particularly in peanut butters. These are the notorious trans fats that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, even if just 1% of your calories comes from them! Often instead of hydrogenated oils, palm oils are used, but I recommend avoiding these as well. Your nut and seed butters should be just nuts and seeds (and maybe salt, usually the amount of sodium is not that high for nut/seed butters).

Here are some tips for incorporating nuts, seeds, or nut/seed butters into your oatmeal:

  • Toast for extra flavor: Toasting nuts and seeds before adding them to your oatmeal can enhance their flavor and texture, making for a more delicious breakfast experience.
  • Control portion sizes: While nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters are nutritious, they are also calorie-dense, so be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overdoing it. ~1/3 of a cup of nuts or seeds in a day is a good figure to keep in mind. Don't go nuts with the nuts 🤪
  • Experiment with toppings: Get creative with your oatmeal toppings by adding fresh fruits, dried fruits, coconut flakes, cinnamon, honey, or maple syrup along with nuts, seeds, or nut/seed butters for a delicious and nutritious breakfast that satisfies your taste buds and keeps you feeling full and energized until lunchtime.

Conclusions

Enhancing your oatmeal with protein not only elevates its nutritional content but also ensures lasting satiety and energy throughout your day. Whether you opt for protein powders—be it unsweetened and plain, flavored with healthy sweeteners like monk fruit or stevia, or enriched with additional nutrients—or prefer whole food sources such as nuts and seeds, you have a plethora of options to tailor your oatmeal to your tastes and dietary requirements.

Experiment with various combinations to discover your favorite flavors and textures. With the versatility of both protein powders and whole food sources, you have the opportunity to create nourishing and satisfying oatmeal meals that support your health and wellness goals. Don't hesitate to explore these options and elevate your breakfast experience to new heights!

Have a favorite way you added protein to your oatmeal in the morning? Let's hear it! Comment below!

Want some recipes to get you started on your protein infused oatmeal journey?

I've got you covered with this beautiful PDF of 20 recipes, all packed with protein in a full array of flavors to keep things interesting. Full nutrition information is provided for every recipe, along with all ingredients, instructions, and a beautiful photo. You will be so excited to get up in the morning and eat your breakfast!

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Anne Marie Berggren RDN, MS, CDN, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Nutrition, training in integrative and functional nutrition, nutrition for mental health, obesity and weight management, is a board certified nutrition support clinician, and an adjunct professor for the Stony Brook Graduate Nutrition Program teaching advanced clinical nutrition.

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