What Is Protein Coffee, and Is It Healthy? Here's a Nutritionist's Take on the Trend
A slew of coffee trends have hit TikTok and Instagram lately, including "proffee," or protein coffee.
Protein coffee is exactly what it sounds like—protein added to coffee. People have been drinking coffee with milk for decades, so the idea of adding protein to coffee isn't completely new. Yet with protein interest at an all-time high, protein anything—including coffee—may sound like a better-for-you option. Here's my take on the trend, from a nutritionist's point of view, and the healthiest ways to incorporate coffee and protein into your morning routine.
Protein can be added to coffee in many different ways
There's no standard recipe for proffee, so exactly how you make it is up to you. Some people mix coffee with pre-made protein shakes that pack up to 30 grams of protein per single-serve container. Others blend their java with a few scoops of plant protein powder, infusing their coffee with about 20-25 grams of protein.
Adding two scoops of collagen to your brew provides about 11 grams of protein. Another option is to simply add milk or a higher-protein plant milk, such as pea milk; both offer 8 grams of protein per 8 ounces. Collagen has no flavor or aroma, and unsweetened, unflavored pea milk is also pretty neutral, but both will add a rich texture to your coffee similar to creamer.
Protein coffee can help you reach your daily nutrition needs
In the midst of this proffee trend, keep a few things in mind about the role of protein and how much you should be getting each day. Protein's primary job is to supply amino acids—the building blocks of protein—for the ongoing maintenance, repair, and healing of protein tissues in the body. These include muscle, as well as enzymes, hormones, immune cells, skin, and hair.
Because exercise puts wear and tear on the body, your protein needs are greater if you work out. For most active people, an optimal daily protein intake is 1.2 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight (1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds). The lower end is appropriate for cardio-based exercisers, and the higher end is reserved for those engaged in strength programs or strenuous workouts, both of which put additional stress on muscles. More stress requires more healing, and therefore more protein.
On a per-meal basis, we're talking about a protein intake of 0.25 to 0.40 grams per kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) of body weight, 4 or 5 times per day. For a 150-pound person (68 kilograms), that's a target of 17-27 grams of total protein at breakfast. Ideally, that protein would be balanced with the other two macronutrients your body needs: fat and carbohydrate. That's because consuming adequate protein without enough fat or carbs can cause the protein you eat to get burned for fuel, which robs it from being used for vital maintenance and repair work.
If you aim for about 20 grams of protein at breakfast, consider all of your sources. For example, if your proffee is made with a ready-to-drink protein shake that packs 20 grams of protein per serving, you don't also need to eat eggs, Greek yogurt, or another protein source at breakfast. On the other hand, if your proffee is made with something with less protein, such as collagen powder or pea milk, you can round out your meal with a bit more protein.
Just note that more protein isn't better, so meeting—but not exceeding—your protein needs is the goal. If your proffee alone meets your protein target, pair it with healthful sources of fat and carbs, like half an avocado and fresh fruit.
Protein quality matters
If you decide to give your morning mug a protein boost, look beyond protein grams on any product you consider adding to your coffee. Read ingredient lists to scope out unwanted additives, such as artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and preservatives, or too much added sugar. This is true for anything you eat, but in the case of proffee, the practice applies to protein milks, powders, creamers, shakes, and anything else you might combine with hot or cold brew.
To get your protein from plants, opt for higher-protein, plant-based milk. Or enjoy a proffee smoothie, made by blending brewed coffee with frozen fruit, plant protein powder, nut butter, and a spice, like cinnamon or ginger. This combo is a balanced way to enjoy coffee, meet your protein needs, and benefit from nutrient- and antioxidant-rich plant foods.
Why is that important? A 2020 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at data from more than 400,000 US men and women over a 16-year period and made a key conclusion. Researchers found that a higher intake of plant protein, as compared to animal protein, was linked to a lower risk of death from all causes, particularly heart disease, which remains the number one killer of both men and women in the US.
Eating protein at breakfast is a good idea. Research shows that protein is best utilized by the body when it's evenly distributed throughout the day. A protein-rich breakfast has also been shown to help reduce age-related muscle loss. And yes, getting in on the proffee trend is a fine way to get that protein as long as you aim for an ideal amount of total protein (rather than an excessive amount), balance your macros, and prioritize whole, nutrient-rich foods for a nutritious breakfast.
But remember that your coffee doesn't have to be the protein source. You can enjoy your coffee black, or with a teaspoon of natural sugar and a dash of cinnamon, along with a balanced meal. Good breakfast options rich in protein include an egg, tofu, or lentil and veggie scramble; overnight oats or pancakes bolstered with plant protein powder; and dairy- or plant-based Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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