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The Ultimate Protein Powder Substitution Guide for Cookies

The Ultimate Protein Powder Substitution Guide for Cookies

Welcome to your Ultimate Guide to Baking With Protein Powder! In this post, we’re going to take a regular chocolate chip cookie recipe and swap the flour out for 9 different types of protein powder to see how each affects the final product.

My hope is that this visual guide, along with my notes & takeaways, will become your companion for your high-protein baking needs. If ever you find yourself pondering, “I wonder if I can substitute this protein powder,” then this guide will help you answer that question!

Every single time I post a recipe, I get asked if the protein powder I used can be swapped for another type of protein powder. As you’ll quickly see in this guide, the answer isn’t very cut-and-dry. “It depends” is really the answer you’re always going to get…

It’s clear that every single type of protein powder has unique properties. So while we cannot account for every brand out there, we can do our best to break down the main differences.

We are testing a regular cookie recipe here and swapping out the flour for a protein powder to see the differences as clearly as possible. When it comes to high-protein recipes, keep in mind that the amount of protein powder required will be even higher, resulting in more drastic differences.

Why Bake With Protein Powder?

If you’re new to my blog, I create a lot of high-protein recipes using protein powder.

I won’t dive too deeply into why protein is important, but this graphic I put together summarizes it briefly for you:

Importance of protein

If you’re involved in the fitness space in any capacity, you’ve likely come across high-protein products on the market. Whether it’s protein cookies, protein cereal, or anything in-between, there is no shortage of high-protein products out there.

While I don’t think that every single food you eat should be protein-packed, I think there’s amazing value in eating a high-protein diet regardless of your goals.

That is why I love baking with protein powder. By swapping out some of the flour, sugar, butter, etc, for healthier ingredients like protein powder, it allows you to enjoy delicious treats while still staying perfectly on track towards your goals.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that ANY food is bad. If you want to eat some Chips Ahoy, I think you should!

As someone who follows flexible dieting, I enjoy all food in moderation, but I love turning towards high-protein alternatives because it allows me to enjoy even more of the foods I love.

While I might enjoy a couple of Chips Ahoy cookies for dessert, enjoying my own higher-protein version allows me to enjoy them even more often. And, if you know what you’re doing, they may even taste just as good!

The Science of Baking: Cookies vs Cakes

As we go through this guide, we’re going to specifically look at how cookies are affected by different types of protein powder.

I want to note that these substitutions will not necessarily look the same for cake recipes. In fact, I did an entire cupcake guide that you can find here.

First and foremost, cookies begin with dough, and cakes begin as a batter, making them quite different.

Generally speaking, cookies are higher in fat and sugar and contain a smaller amount of flour. The result is a final product with minimal rise and a soft, slightly chewy interior.

If you’re baking something cakey, the properties are vastly different. Cakes are lower in fat and contain more flour to give them a light & fluffy texture.

There are millions or recipes for both cakes and cookies, and each one will result in a unique product. That’s because baking is truly science, and even the smallest adjustment to the recipe can completely change the end-result.

General Tips & Substitutions

We’re going to explore the specifics of each type of protein powder and how they can affect a recipe, but first, we should talk about some general properties of protein powder.

In most cases, you can not swap flour for protein powder 1:1. In other words, if you find a recipe for cookies that has received amazing reviews, you can’t just take that recipe and substitute the flour for protein powder and expect the same result.

As you’ll see in this guide, it can work, but the result is going to change drastically.

Protein powder is pure protein. Some protein powder may have added ingredients for flavoring, but for the most part, you are just adding pure protein to a recipe.

And when you add more protein to a baked good, it is going to become very dry (f you’ve ever had a protein cookie on the market, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about).

Every protein powder is different, but generally speaking, there are some things you’ll need to do if you plan on adding protein to a recipe:

  • Add Fat. Whereas protein dries out baked goods, fat keeps them moist. If you’re adding protein, you’ll also need to make sure you are adding fat to a recipe. If you are aiming for high-protein and low-fat, it’s going to be very difficult.
  • Use a leaving agent. If you’re opting for protein powder to replace some of your flour, you don’t want your recipes to fall flat. Since you are removing gluten, make sure you utilize baking powder or baking soda in your recipes.
  • Easy on the eggs. Lots of dessert recipes call for eggs, but if you’re adding protein powder, you’re doubling-up on the protein. When used together, you’ll often find your recipes turning out very dry. When I bake with protein powder, I tend to leave the eggs out compeletely.
  • Lessen the sweetener: If you’re adding protein powder, it is likely flavored with some form of sweetener (even if it’s artificial). You definitely want to lower the sweetener in your recipe to compensate.

There are lots of tips & tricks I can give you, but the best thing to do if you aspire to bake with protein powder is practice. Check out my high-protein recipes here. I do my best to provide tons of notes and tips to make things as easy as possible for you.

Types of Protein Powder

In recent years, the amount of protein powder on the market has totally exploded.

We used to have whey or casein protein powder (mostly), but now we have blends, dairy-free options, plant-based options, and more.

For this guide, I couldn’t test every type of protein powder out there, but I did my best to cover all of the most common protein powders out there.

Comparing protein powders

Let’s run through the different types I used here…

Whey Protein

Whey protein is the most popular type of protein out there- if you buy protein powder, odds are that it’s going to be whey protein. Whey is fast-digesting, which is why it is touted as a great post-workout drink, but it’s also cheap to manufacture, which is why companies have been so quick to sell it.

Without getting too into the science of protein, whey protein is the byproduct of milk when cheese or yogurt is made. If you’ve ever taken your yogurt out of the fridge and noticed that liquid on top, that’s the whey protein separating out (so stop dumping it!)

But there are actually two types of whey protein: whey concentrate, and whey isolate.

Whey Concentrate: This is the type of whey protein you’re most likely to find. A concentrate means that 80% of the product is protein, so it will likely have a small amount of carbs or fat. Don’t worry, it’s still typically only 1-2g of fat per serving, and maybe 3g carbs total.

Whey Isolate: Isolate is a “stronger” protein powder that must contain at least 90% protein. It will be virtually carb & fat free, but may contain small amounts of each (typically less than one gram per serving).

Casein Protein

Casein is the other byproduct of milk opposite of whey, and it is actually the main protein found in milk. If you were to grab yourself a gallon of milk and drink some before bed, you’d essentially be consuming a casein supplement.

Casein protein is slower digesting, which is why you’ll see many people drinking it at night to reap the benefits while being in a fasted state for so long (for the record, you don’t need to do this, but many people like to).

If you have never had a casein protein supplement, it is much thicker than whey protein. Think of whey protein as chocolate milk, but casein protein as a chocolate milkshake. If you mix casein with just a small amount of liquid, you’ll get a pudding-like consistency.

Egg Protein

For anyone that can’t handle dairy very well, egg protein is a popular choice. Egg protein is exactly what is sounds like- a powdered form of egg whites.

If sodium is a concern, it’s worth noting that egg protein tends to be relatively high in sodium. Since one egg white contains 55mg of sodium, it can add up in a concentrated powder.

For reference, the brand that I used for this experiment (“It’s Just” brand) contains over 400mg per scoop serving, whereas the whey protein contains only 100mg.

Plant-Based Protein

There are tons of plant-based protein powders out there, so we’re not going to break down each one. Pea protein and brown rice protein are the two most common types but note that there are plenty more out there.

Generally speaking, plant-based protein has a very strong “earthy” flavor. No matter which brand you try, and whichever flavor you choose, you will absolutely taste a difference between the plant-based protein and a dairy-based protein.

Plant-based protein will most commonly be found as blends to try to improve the overall flavor, so don’t be surprised if you check the ingredients and it contains quite a few different sources.

Nutritionally, plant-based protein is going to be similar to whey concentrate, with a small amount of fat and carbs in each serving.

Other Types of Protein

I can only fit so much into a single guide, so I had to draw the line somewhere. It’s worth noting that there are other types of protein powders out there, but they are much less common, so I didn’t devote time to testing them. Here are a few:

  • Beef Protein Powder
  • Soy Protein Powder
  • Almond Protein Powder
  • Cricket Protein Powder (yes, it’s a real thing)

How Different Protein Powder Affects Cookies

Okay, you’ve waited long enough. Let’s get into the experiment.

First, we needed to start with a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. I know that everybody has their own preferences when it comes to cookies (chewy vs crunchy, thick vs thin, etc) but I experimented with a recipe until I ended up with a result that I personally enjoyed.

I wanted to keep it very simple, so this cookie is small-batch and does not require any chilling of the dough. Personally, I find cookies come out better when you chill the dough before baking, but that was too much of a time commitment for these purposes.

This cookie was light and soft inside, but still had nice crispy edges- just the way I like it. Yes, the center drooped on me a little bit, but that was my own user error for rushing the photo.

Every cookie I tested followed this same exact recipe and bake time, with the only difference being that the flour was completely swapped out for protein powder.

Basic Ingredients: Butter, Brown Sugar, Sugar, Salt, Vanilla Extract, Egg Yolk, Baking Soda, Flour

Process: Cream together butter and sugar, then add rest of ingredients until it comes together as cookie dough.

Bake Time: 350 degrees F for 10 minutes

Cooling Time: 10 minutes

Whey Isolate

100% Whey Isolate is a very popular type of protein powder out there, with a lot of brands opting for this type because it’s the most “pure” form of protein (containing very little carbs or fat). This cookie ended up being crispy around the edges, but too soft and gooey inside.

Baking With Whey Isolate

Brand Used: Dymatize

Result: The interior of the cookie was very chewy and gummy, and the protein powder did not completely dissolve, resulting in a gritty texture. This cookie also had the strongest protein powder flavor of any cookie I tested.

Tips: If you like your cookies crispy, whey protein is the way to go. However, we definitely don’t want a gummy or gritty texture, because it’s pretty disgusting. When making the cookie dough, I recommend mixing everything together and then adding the protein powder as the very last ingredient to limit that “gritty” texture you get.

Whey Concentrate

Most whey protein you come across is likely to be a blend of whey isolate & whey concentrate, but it’s also possible you buy a protein powder that is 100% whey concentrate, which actually ends up making quite a difference.

Baking With Whey Concentrate

Brand Used: Bob’s Red Mill

Result: Whey concentrate seems to spread a little thinner than whey isolate, likely due to the small amount of fat & carbs in the protein powder, but it ended up having a very spongy and greasy consistency.

Tips: Overall, this cookie actually had great potential as a thin and crispy cookie, but it was way too spongey as a soft cookie. If I had bumped the oven temperature up a bit, I would guess that this would have resulted in an overall decent crunchy cookie.

Whey Isolate + Concentrate Blend

If you have whey protein in your pantry, the odds are that it is a blend of whey isolate and whey concentrate, as it seems like most of the big brands are.

Baking With a Whey Isolate & Concentrate Blend

Brand Used: Bowmar

Result: The exterior of this cookie crisped up a lot, but the interior remained gritty and gummy. Not surprisingly, this one took on the properties of the previous two tests.

Tips: Like the whey concentrate, this protein powder seems to have the potential to create a crunchy cookie with a longer bake time or higher temperature. Since the interior was still very slimy and greasy, it would definitely benefit from longer in the oven.

Casein

Casein is a popular “nighttime” protein powder as it is a slow-digesting protein. However, it is vastly different from whey protein.

Baking With Casein

Brand Used: Legion

Result: This cookie dough was very light and dry prior to baking, so it was clear that the result was going to be dry. The final cookie was indeed very dry and cakey with little spread, and the flavor was very strong of protein powder.

Tips: Casein is great for producing thick products like protein pudding or edible cookie dough, but if you don’t want the final result to be thick, casein is not the best route to go. If you do choose to go with a casein protein powder, your recipe is going to need extra liquid/fat (like butter or oil) to compensate.

Casein + Whey Isolate Blend

Whey/Casein protein blends are very popular, and it’s always what I recommend for my recipes. Why? Because you get the best of both worlds! But the blend you find may be different depending on the brand. In this case, let’s look at a blend of casein protein and whey isolate protein.

Baking With a Whey Isolate + Casein Blend

Brand Used: Quest Nutrition

Result: Like the casein cookie, this ended up being quite cakey and thick (you can see how the bottom of the cookie seems very cakey). However, the overall flavor and texture was much more pleasing than the casein protein alone.

Tips: If you like thick and doughy cookies (like Crumbl) a blend is going to suit you well. However, your dough is going to require some additional liquid to help the overall spread.

Casein + Whey Isolate + Whey Concentrate Blend

This is my go-to blend, as it gives you the properties of all three protein powders together. If you follow along with my recipes, you’ll almost always see me use this type of blend.

Baking With a Whey Isolate, Concentrate, & Casein Blend

Brand Used: PEScience

Result: A cookie that is soft & gooey inside, but lacking a crisp on the outside. Less cakey and more spread than casein alone, and has the best flavor overall.

Tips: I really enjoyed this substitution, but it was still on the dry side. Even with this type of blend, I recommend adding additional liquid and/or fat to your dough. When you form your cookies, you’ll know based on how dry the dough is if you need to add more liquid (in most cases, adding a little milk will work great).

Collagen

Can you bake with collagen powder? Yes, but as you can see here, it is DRASTICALLY different than any other type of protein powder. Most notably, it completely lacks in structure.

Baking With Collagen

Brand Used: PEScience

Result: The collagen cookie spread completely flat, but instead of becoming a thin & crispy cookie, it stayed soft, undercooked, and impossible to pick up. The collagen cookie dough was extremely sticky, and it remained that way even after baking.

Tips: Collagen can not be used as a replacement in any recipe. If you want to add collagen powder to recipes, you can certainly do that, but it simply can not replace flour or other protein powder in any of your recipes.

Egg Protein

Egg protein is popular amongst those with dairy allergies. While there are plenty of egg-based protein powders out there with additional flavorings added, I tested out a plain, unflavored powder.

Baking With Egg Protein

Brand Used: It’s Just

Result: This cookie had very minimal spread, and the interior was extremely chewy. The flavor was very eggy and way too salty due to salt being added to the egg protein powder. The color of this cookie also remained much lighter than all other cookies.

Tips: You can definitely use egg protein in recipes, but you have to account for the fact that it’s going to bake up like… eggs. Even if you use a flavored egg protein, once it’s baked, you’re definitely going to get an eggy flavor. WIth this type of protein, I would only substitute a small amount of the flour the recipe calls for to keep the flavor palatable.

Vegan/Plant-Based

When it comes to plant-based protein, there are tons of options. There’s pea protein, brown rice protein, mung bean protein, hemp protein, and probably hundreds of others. In my experience, most plant-based protein powders bake very similarly regardless of the specific ingredients, so I chose to only test one.

The protein powder I used here is mostly pea protein, which is the most common plant-based protein powder used.

Baking With Plant-Based Protein

Brand Used: FLEX

Result: The cookie dough was incredibly dry, so I knew the final result would be very dry as well. Rather than becoming cakey, these cookies completely dried out and were very crumbly. The flavor was also very earthy even though the vanilla protein powder used had a sweet flavor.

Tips: Plant-based protein is not only extremely absorbent but has a very strong flavor. When using this type of protein, you’ll definitely need to add additional liquid to your recipes, and you will need to bump up the sweetener used. In most cases, you want to lessen the overall sweetness when baking with protein powder (since most are flavored and sweetened) but in the case of plant-based protein, you definitely need to add additional sweetener.

Final Thoughts

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read through this guide!

Unless you just skipped right to the end… but thank you anyway.

At the end of the day, ANY protein powder can be great for baking cookies, but you have to make the right substitutions, and it depends on the type of cookie you’re after.

As a 1:1 replacement in cookie recipes, any of the protein powder options won’t necessarily work out extremely well for you.

But if you find a recipe online that uses your specific type of protein powder, all of the substitutions and guesswork have already been done for you, so the final result may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Here are some of my final observations:

Whey Protein (any type): Best for thin & crispy cookies. Will result in very sticky cookie dough.

Casein or Casein Blend: Best for thick or soft & doughy cookies. The cookie dough will be very dry, so recipes will require extra liquid.

Plant-Based Protein: In my experience, works best for no-bake cookies. If you use plant-based protein for baking, you’ll need to add more sweetener and fat to the cookie dough.

General Tips: When baking cookies with protein powder, you will want to lessen the bake-time slightly because they tend to become dry. You’ll also benefit greatly from refrigerating the cookie dough before baking, especially if using whey protein, because it will make your cookie dough much less sticky.

And one last observation that is worth mentioning. When it comes to baking cookies with protein powder, you can get a good sense of how the cookie is going to turn out before baking.

Check out these two balls of cookie dough below. On the left is whey protein, on the right is casein protein.

The whey protein cookie already looks gritty, and the dough was very sticky, so it’s no surprise that the final result was gritty and sticky.

The casein protein cookie was very dry, crumbly, and light, and the final baked cookie ended up being exactly the same.

So if you’re worried about how your cookies will bake, you can usually tell before you even pop them into the oven!

Protein Cookie Recipes For Each Type of Protein Powder

Giant 6oz Protein Cookie
My Giant 6oz Protein Cookie using a Casein/Whey Blend

There are thousands of protein cookie recipes out there in the world, but here’s a quick list of some awesome recipes from around the web:

Whey Protein: Peanut Butter Protein Cookies from Well Plated by Erin

Casein Protein: Protein Cookies by The Big Man’s World

Whey/Casein Blend: Giant Protein Cookies by Yours Truly (that’s me)- or any of my other cookie recipes

Plant-Based: Vegan Protein Cookies by My Quiet Kitchen

Collagen: Collagen Chocolate Chip Cookies from Hello Spoonful

Did this guide help you? Are there specific things you want to know or that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Melani

Sunday 7th of November 2021

Great guide! Thanks for putting this together.

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