7 Tips for Making Protein Overnight Oats
Preparing protein overnight oats can be an easy solution for athletes looking to boost their protein intake with breakfast. Let’s take a look at what overnight oats are. Then we will explore ingredients you can add to your overnight oats to create a protein-packed recipe to start out your day.
What are Overnight Oats?
Overnight oats have become a popular breakfast item in recent years due to their simplicity and versatility. Generally, the recipe is prepared the night before to be enjoyed the next day. The basic recipe for overnight oats involves mixing together oats, a liquid, and added ingredients of your choice. The mixture is then refrigerated overnight to allow time for the oats to absorb the liquid and soften. In the morning you can enjoy the oats cold or warm them up before eating.
Health Benefits of Overnight Oats
Oats are the main ingredient in overnight oats and are packed full of nutrients. Oats are a whole grain carbohydrate containing soluble fiber, B Vitamins, antioxidants, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc. You can further increase the nutrient content of overnight oats by adding in ingredients such as fruit, seeds, nuts, and spices. By carefully selecting the ingredients added to your overnight oats, you can ensure your oatmeal provides a good source of protein as well.
Making Protein Overnight Oats
Before looking at ways to add protein to your overnight oats, let’s discuss some key steps in preparing the recipe.
Determining the Type of Oats
The first step in making overnight oats is determining which type of oat to use. In general, old-fashioned rolled oats tend to provide the best consistency for making overnight oats. Quick-cook or instant oats are rolled thinner than old-fashioned oats. When quick-cook or instant oaks are soaked overnight they tend to dissolve, which results in a thin, slimy oatmeal in the morning.
Steel-cut oats, on the other hand, are thicker oats that require a longer soaking time. When steel-cut oats are only soaked overnight they will still have a slightly chewy texture in the morning. If you desire to use steel-cut oats in your overnight oats recipe consider allowing them to soak for a longer period of time. For example, you could use steel-cut oats to meal prep overnight oats that will be enjoyed for breakfast later in the week.
Liquid to Oats Ratio
The next step in preparing overnight oats is determining the best liquid to oats ratio. Using enough fluid is important to ensure the oats can soak in the liquid and soften overnight. In general, a 2:1 ratio of liquid to oats will produce a soft oatmeal that is ready to be enjoyed in the morning.
If you prefer a thick and creamy oatmeal in the morning, try using yogurt in place of some of the liquid in your recipe. My go-to overnight oatmeal ratio is as follows:
- 1-part milk (½ cup)
- 1-part yogurt (½ cup)
- 1-part oats (½ cup)
Mixing in Added Ingredients
The final step in preparing overnight oats is determining when to mix in added ingredients such as fruit, nuts, and seeds. Some ingredients are best to mix in at night, while others are best added to the oats before eating in the morning.
- Ingredients to mix in at night: Oats, milk, yogurt, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, frozen fruit, dried fruit, nut butter, spices.
- Ingredients to add in the morning: Fresh berries, banana slices, nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dry cereal, granola.
How Much Protein to Add to Overnight Oats
When determining how much protein you want in your overnight oats, it is important to understand recommended protein intakes for athletes. To get the most benefit from protein intake, athletes are encouraged to spread their protein intake throughout the day with meals and snacks1.
Protein recommendations for athletes are typically based upon the individual’s body weight. In general, athletes should aim to consume ~ 0.25-0.3 grams of protein/kg body weight at several meals and snacks throughout the day. This calculates to be in the range of 25-30 grams of protein per meal for most athletes; with larger athletes needing more protein than smaller athletes.
7 Tips for Adding Protein to Overnight Oats
Now let’s look at 7 ingredients you can add to your overnight oats to increase the protein content.
#1 High-Protein Milk
The use of high-protein milk in your overnight oats recipe is an easy way to boost the protein content of your recipe. Ultra-filtered milks, such as Fairlife® or H‑E‑B MooTopia®, are high-protein milk options you can try. These milks are filtered to remove the lactose and concentrate both the protein and calcium content of the beverage. To provide a comparison, a cup of ultra-filtered milk has ~13 grams of protein, while a cup of regular cow’s milk has 8 grams of protein.
Pant-Based, High-Protein Milk
Some brands of plant-based milks are starting to offer higher protein varieties. For example, Silk® Original Protein is an almond and cashew milk blend that contains added pea protein. A one cup serving of this beverage provides 10 grams of protein, along with calcium and Vitamin D. This can be a good option for athletes following a plant-based diet.
#2 Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is an excellent option for adding protein to your overnight oats. Greek yogurt contains ~21 grams of protein per cup, while regular yogurt has ~7 grams of protein. Therefore, you get ~3 times more protein when switching from regular to Greek yogurt.
In addition to protein, Greek yogurt provides calcium and some brands are also fortified with Vitamin D. Personally, I enjoy using a vanilla flavored Greek yogurt with my overnight oats, as it gives the overnight oats a rich and creamy flavor.
Plant-Based Greek-Like Yogurt
If you are looking for a non-dairy option, consider looking for plant-based Greek-like yogurts. Similar to Greek yogurt, plant-based Greek-like yogurts have a higher protein content than traditional plant-based yogurts. When purchasing plant-based yogurts make sure to compare the nutrition fact labels between products to find the higher protein options.
Seeds are an excellent way to boost the nutrient profile of your overnight oats. Not only do seeds contain protein, they also contain fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Chia seeds have a remarkable ability to absorb water and will help give your oatmeal a thicker texture. A 1-ounce serving of chia seeds provides ~4 grams of protein along with 9 grams of fiber. Make sure to mix the chia seeds into your oats the night before, as this allows the chia seeds time to absorb the liquid and thicken the oatmeal.
Ground flaxseeds can also be stirred into your overnight oats to boost the fiber, protein, and omega-3 content of your breakfast. Flaxseeds are typically consumed ground, as it is easier for the body to digest and absorb the nutrients in the ground form. Similar to chia seeds, I suggest stirring the flaxseeds into your oats the night before.
If you are looking for seed options to give your overnight oats an added crunch, consider stirring in sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds before you enjoy your oatmeal in the morning.
Nuts and nut butters contain monounsaturated fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a nutritious addition to your oatmeal. Different types of nuts provide different nutritional benefits, so try including a variety in your overall sports nutrition meal plan.
Walnuts, sliced almonds, pistachios, and chopped pecans can all make a nutritious addition to your overnight oats. Nuts are best stirred into your oatmeal in the morning for added crunch.
#5 Nut Butters
Nut butters are another way to add both flavor and protein to your overnight oats. In general, a 2-tablespoon serving of nut butter contains ~7 grams of protein. When selecting a nut butter, choose a product that has limited added ingredients. Some nut butters contain added sugars and hydrogenated oils, making them less healthy choices.
If you are working to gain weight, nuts and nut butters can be a great addition to your overnight oats providing healthy calories. However, if weight gain is not your goal, be mindful of portion size when adding in nuts and nut butter, as they are calorie dense.
For a delicious pumpkin overnight oats recipe that contains both almond butter and pecans, check out this Pumpkin Protein Overnight Oats recipe from Maria Tointon, Registered and Licensed Dietitian.
#5 Stir in High-Protein Cereal or Granola
Another way to add protein to your overnight oats is by stirring high-protein breakfast cereal or granola into your oatmeal. Make sure to add the cereal in the morning so it maintains it’s crunchy texture. Here are a couple of great, high-protein cereal options to consider adding to your overnight oats.
- KIND® Almond Butter Clusters – Made with almond butter and whole grains, one serving of this granola contains 10 grams of protein. Definitely a delicious, crunchy, high-protein addition to your overnight oats.
- Kashi Go® Crunch – Made with whole grains and sesame seeds, this cereal makes a great substitute for granola. A ¾ cup serving provides 28 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of protein. The Kashi Go® Honey Almond Flax Crunch is another great option, with the added benefit of containing flax seeds.
#6 Protein Powder in Overnight Oats
If you are considering using a protein powder in your overnight oats, be aware that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that food is. Dietary supplements may contain banned substances that could potentially make you ineligible for competition.
Third-Party Tested Supplements
Due to this, look for supplements that have been third-party tested. Supplements that are third-party tested have an outside organization evaluate the supplement for accuracy of ingredients. Two companies that evaluate sports supplements are NSF International Certified for Sport and Informed Sport.
Amount of Protein in Your Protein Powder
Also, when using protein powder, be aware of the amount of protein contained in one scoop of the protein powder. Recognizing that your goal is 25-30 grams of protein per meal, you may not need to include one full scoop of protein powder in your overnight oats. If you are adding in other sources of protein such as Greek yogurt or nut butter, make sure to factor in the protein content of these items when calculating the total protein content of the oatmeal.
When to Add Protein Powder to Your Overnight Oats
When using protein powder in your overnight oats, I recommend stirring the powder into the oats in the morning. As the protein powder soaks overnight it may become thick and clumpy resulting in an undesirable texture in the morning.
As you stir the protein powder into the oats in the morning the mixture may thicken. Thus, you may need to pour in additional liquid to create the consistency you desire.
Ready to Make Protein Overnight Oats
You are now equipped with ideas for adding protein to your overnight oats. Have fun trying out different combinations of ingredients to create a protein-rich oatmeal to start your day.
If you are looking for additional sports nutrition breakfast tips, check-out my blog: 3 Keys to Building Healthy Breakfasts for Athletes.
Click HERE to receive a free Overnight Oats recipe download.
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 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.
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