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Healthier Chocolate Donut Holes

When I posted my Healthier Air Fryer Donut Holes, you guys went crazy for them.

For good reason. They are easily one of my favorite recipes here on the site!

I knew I needed to come up with a chocolate version, but chocolate is very tricky. It’s not as simple as just using a chocolate protein powder or adding cocoa powder to the original recipe.

Cocoa powder dries out baked goods quite a bit- so these actually took some experimenting to get them exactly right.

I’m very pleased with the final result!

I’ll be honest: I don’t like these as much as the original, but that’s because I’m much more a fan of vanilla than chocolate. Call me crazy!

The major criticism (if you can call it that) of the original recipe is that the dough was way too sticky to work with. I’ve come to find out that if you use a 100% whey protein, the dough is in fact going to be very sticky.

I learned through my Giant Protein Cookie recipe that the type of protein you choose is VERY important. And that is no different here.

But, since I love you so much, I did a whole bunch of testing with whey protein so I could relay the proper directions to you. Don’t worry, I’ll break it all down for ya!


How to make these Healthier Chocolate Donut Holes

These instructions are assuming you are using the same protein I used- a whey/casein blend. If using 100% whey protein, please scroll down for the changes you’ll have to make!

To make these chocolate donut holes, all you have to do is mix up some dry ingredients, add applesauce and butter, and mix until you have a dough!

From there, it’s as simple as forming the donut holes…

These expand a bit when cooked, so don’t worry about making them huge.

I like to keep these on the smaller side, but there’s no set-rule for how large to make these. You may yield slightly more or less than I did, but you should aim to get 25-30 total donut holes.

Some will be smaller and some larger, but we’re not after perfection around here.

Depending on the size of your air fryer, you’ll likely need to do 2 batches. I like to make sure I leave enough space between all the chocolate donut holes so they fully cook all the way around. I like the outside to have a nice crisp to it, so it’s important to make sure the air can make it all the way around!

As long as your air fryer is preheated (I learned when making my Protein Churro Bites and Air Fryer Crispy Chicken that preheating makes a HUGE difference) these should only take about 4 minutes total. Let them go for 2 minutes, then open up the air fryer and flip them over.

After just 2 minutes, they should have expanded a bit already! We flip them over to not only help them fully bake all the way around, but also to make sure they don’t flatten too much on one side.

After 4 minutes, they should be perfect!

Whether you want to coat them in a glaze or powdered sugar (melted chocolate would also be a great idea) they’re ready to coat immediately.

I did half my batch as glazed and the other half as powdered sugar because I couldn’t choose…

I think I enjoyed the glazed chocolate donut holes a little bit more because the glaze adds some extra moisture, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide that for yourself!


Using a different type of protein powder

With my original Air Fryer Donut Holes, quite a few people told me that their dough was very sticky and hard to work with. That is most definitely due to using a protein that is 100% whey!

Whey-based protein gets very sticky. That’s why I swear by protein powders like PEScience or Quest, because they use a whey & casein blend. The addition of casein makes such a huge difference. Trust me.

I tested this recipe with Quest, which is a whey/casein blend, and Bowmar Nutrition, which is 100% whey.

For Quest, I went with the peanut butter flavor, which worked surprisingly well. Chocolate is obviously the safest bet for these, but truly any protein powder flavor will work. Since we’re adding cocoa powder, the protein powder will not be too prominent, so anything should work (even vanilla).

When you mix up all the ingredients with whey protein alone, the result is a very sticky batter. Don’t worry, I have 2 solutions for you!


Solution 1 for Sticky Dough: Add the whey LAST

I first discovered this when I made my no-bake protein cookie dough. Check out the difference between these two cookie doughs:

These are the same exact recipe (using whey protein) and the ONLY difference is when I added the whey protein. In the front, I added the whey protein along with my other dry ingredients, and in the back was when I added the whey protein as the very last ingredient.

I mean, that is a huge difference.

For these chocolate donut holes, the same principle applies: add the protein powder as the very last ingredient (after the wet ingredients). It will still be sticky, but not nearly as much as adding the protein first!


Solution 2 for Sticky Dough: Cold water or extra flour

Whenever I’m working with a sticky dough, I use either the “wet hands” method or “floured hands” method.

  • Wet hands means filling a small bowl up with cold water. Then, dip your fingers in the cold water to be able to work with the dough and form it into balls. This typically works very well, but sometimes can make the dough very wet and/or too soft. So, that’s where the second method comes into play!
  • Floured hands is simply flouring up your hands before forming the donut holes. Sometimes this method isn’t ideal because it leaves a coating or dry flour on the outside, but it won’t matter here! Since we’re going to coat the donut holes with either glaze or powdered sugar, you won’t eve notice it!

Feel free to try each method and see which you prefer. I gave both a shot and preferred the floured method, but either works!

Outside of this, the only other difference was one extra minute of cook time. Since the dough was a little bit wetter, an extra minute did the trick!

At the end of the day, whey protein still works great, but it’s incredibly important that you add the whey protein powder LAST. When you’re dealing with a whey/casein blend, the ordering won’t matter.

When it came to the taste-test, I truly enjoyed both the same, but the whey/casein version seemed to hold up slightly better.


No air fryer?

These bake up very well in the air fryer and only take 4-5 total minutes per batch, so that’s my preferred method!

You can definitely use the oven if you don’t have an air fryer. For my Protein Cider Donut Recipe I baked them in the oven, and the result was great. I can’t tell you the exact time & temp, but 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes should work.


Can’t form these chocolate donut holes?

If your dough is sticky and you’re too frustrated trying to form them into balls, I have 2 options for ya!

  1. Add the dough to a donut pan and bake them as full donuts in the oven.
  2. When in doubt… turn it into a waffle!

This entire recipe ended up making 2 Belgian waffles when I tested it. And yes, I added some chocolate chips for good measure!

While these aren’t the most “macro-friendly” waffles, each one was about 450 calories and 25g of protein, which is still a great breakfast in my eyes.

Plus, these tasted EXACTLY like brownies. For whatever reason, these stay a little bit more dense and gooey in the waffle maker vs the air fryer, and they tasted very similar to brownies. I’m not mad about that!


If you want more chocolate recipes, I have a ton for ya…


Healthier Chocolate Donut Holes

Healthier Chocolate Donut Holes

Yield: 30 Donut Holes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 18 minutes

Chocolate donut holes that you can easily make in the air fryer! Enjoy hot & fresh or store the leftovers for a snack you can enjoy all week long.


Optional Glaze


  1. Preheat your air fryer at 370 degrees F while you prep the donut holes (about 10 minutes).
  2. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients for your donut holes (flour, protein powder, cocoa powder, baking powder, sugar substitute, and salt). **If you are using a 100% WHEY protein, leave the protein powder out and add it after step 3 (see notes below for full instructions with whey protein)
  3. Add the applesauce and butter and mix it up with a silicone spatula until a dough forms.
  4. Once the air fryer is preheated, spray the basket with nonstick spray. I recommend using parchment paper made for the air fryer as well, but that is optional!
  5. Break off a small piece of dough, roll it in your palms, and then place it in the air fryer basket. You can make them as large as you'd like, but I was able to make 30 with mine.
  6. Continue forming the donut holes and placing them in the air fryer, leaving enough space in between for them to heat evenly. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to do two batches.
  7. Air fry the donut holes for 4 minutes total. After 2 minutes, use tongs to carefully flip each donut hole, then return to the air fryer for the remaining 2 minutes. Note: if your air fryer hasn't been fully preheated these may take a few minutes longer.
  8. Carefully remove from the air fryer and top/coat the donut holes however you'd like prior to serving.
  9. For glaze coating: If you'd like to glaze the donut holes, add your powdered sugar to a large bowl and slowly stir in 1-2 tbsp of milk until it resembles a glaze. Add your donut holes to the bowl, then carefully remove the donut holes, allowing the excess glaze to run off. Place on a cooling rack to set.
  10. For powdered sugar coating: Add powdered sugar to a large bowl and drop the donut holes right in when they come out (I didn't weigh out how much sugar I used). Since they are hot, the powdered sugar will stick no problem. Give them a toss until fully coated, then place on a cooling rack.


  • IF USING 100% WHEY PROTEIN: I did a bunch of testing to make sure I could get this recipe right for you! While I highly recommend a whey/casein blend protein, whey definitely works. You just have to make a couple tiny changes:
  1. When you mix up your dry ingredients, leave the whey protein out completely. Add the wet ingredients and mix until you have a sticky batter. THEN mix in the whey protein powder to thicken the batter.
  2. The batter/dough is going to still be stickier than if you use a whey/casein blend. For me, I was still able to form the donut holes, but I needed to use a little trick. Either wet your fingers with cold water to be able to handle the sticky dough or flour your hands. You can try both methods and see what you prefer, but flour will work slightly better. Plus, we're going to add powdered sugar or a glaze, so it doesn't matter if there is some extra flour on these going into the air fryer.
  3. When I used whey protein, I ended up making closer to 24 donut holes vs 30 with the protein blend. Of course, it depends on how large you make them too.
  4. You'll need to let these cook for an extra minute, so 5 minutes total. I left these cook for 3 minutes, then flipped them over and let them finish for the final 2, and they worked out great.

To see how different types of protein powder affect donut recipes, check out my Ultimate Protein Powder Substitution Guide.


  • Regarding flavors of protein powder, anything goes for this! Obviously chocolate works the best, but vanilla actually still works well since we're adding cocoa powder. I ended up testing with vanilla and peanut butter flavor, and I really liked the peanut butter a lot!
  • The "buttery spread" I use is Country Crock. Any butter spread, margarine, coconut oil, or regular butter will work great.
  • If you made your glaze too thin, you can let the glazed donut holes set for a few minutes, then dip them back into the glaze.
  • These donut holes are best served fresh, but can be stored in an airtight container to enjoy throughout the week. If glazed, they'll stay nice and mosit. If you use powdered sugar, you might find them slightly dry as leftovers- don't worry! Pop these in the microwave for 10 seconds and they'll taste like warm brownie bites. Trust me.

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Nutrition Information
Yield 30 Donut Holes Serving Size 1 Donut Hole
Amount Per Serving Calories 30Total Fat 1gCarbohydrates 4gProtein 2g

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Air Fryer Chocolate Donut Holes

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Wednesday 4th of January 2023

Can I replace the buttee apread with plain greek yogurt?


Saturday 3rd of December 2022

Have you tried making these as full sized donuts yet? I really want to try but I’m afraid they might not rise enough!


Thursday 8th of December 2022

I tried with the original donut hole recipe (not the chocolate) and that was indeed the problem, unfortunately. I tweaked the recipe to make full sized donuts so you can make some slight changes to do the same for chocolate, if you want to give it a try!


Thursday 25th of March 2021

DELICIOUS!!! The tips for using 100% whey were spot on, I had no issues. My 4 year old is a donut hole feen and has been requesting these over going to Dunkin Donuts. As with many of Matt's recipes these are quick, easy, and delicious, don't miss out.

About Matt Rosenman

With over 15 years of experience in health and fitness, Matt Rosenman is the expert voice behind Matt’s philosophy is simple: no foods are off-limits, and a healthy lifestyle shouldn't be complicated or restrictive. As a certified personal trainer with a bachelor’s degree in Health Behavioral Sciences, Matt brings well-rounded expertise to his blog. From revamping classic recipes with a nutritious twist to debunking health myths, he guides his readers through the maze of fitness fads with science-backed advice. Featured in major publications and with a strong following on social media, Matt is committed to making “healthy” uncomplicated—proving there's no need for a cheat day when you’re enjoying delicious, better-for-you meals every day. Join Matt on his mission to simplify health without sacrificing flavor. Learn More

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