A Dietitian’s Take on Protein Coffee

header image for a dietitian's take on protein coffee

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If you’ve spent any time on TikTok, you’ve probably heard of proffee – AKA protein coffee. And if you hadn’t heard of it until now, you’re probably wondering what proffee is, is it good for you, does it taste good, and if so, how do you get your hands on some stat. 

Well, good news, because I’m going to put my Master’s degree in nutrition to good work and give you the nitty-gritty on protein coffee right here! 

What Is Proffee? 

Search the hashtag #proffee and you can easily get lost in a sea of images and videos for the hottest beverage out there. Just kidding – it’s actually almost always ice cold! While iced coffee with protein powder may not sound out of this world alone, seeing it will make you want to give it a try. 

Some people swear by making it with espresso. Others will specifically use cold brew coffee. You can even make your high protein coffee with a regular hot cup of java. Whatever jolt of caffeine that you choose, the next step is to make it a high protein coffee by adding protein powder or a pre-made protein shake. Top it off with milk or nondairy substitute and ice cubes, and you’ve got a basic protein coffee recipe!

Of course, there are fancier proffee choices out there: make flavored protein coffee by adding syrups, flavored creamers, or flavored protein powder to your drink. The rules aren’t hard and fast here so you have the opportunity to get creative in the quest to dazzle your tastebuds.

Is Protein Coffee Good For You?

Coffee does offer certain health benefits. Certain research studies have suggested that coffee can protect against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke. Moderate coffee intake also seems to offer protective qualities against heart failure. Plus, downing a cup of java before hitting the gym can boost your overall endurance and performance.

The downsides of coffee, of course, are that too much caffeine can make you jittery and give you heart palpitations. Drinking it too late in the day often means counting sheep all night, with barely a wink of sleep before your morning alarm goes off – cueing you for another cup of the good stuff! And if you’re pregnant, you’re going to want to limit yourself to less than 2 cups of coffee a day (150-200 mg of caffeine) to prevent developmental problems and miscarriage.

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Now, what about putting protein powder in coffee?

Americans tend to be obsessed with getting more protein. It sometimes seems like the only safe macronutrient since we’ve been told in recent decades that dietary fat is evil, followed by carbs suddenly turning into the boogeyman. What else are we supposed to eat?

We’ll get into the truth about carbs and fat another time (but for now, let me assure you – you CAN eat them and be healthy!) – when it comes to protein powders, there are too many options to make a blanket statement about whether or not they are “good.” Everyone needs protein. It’s essentially the building block of your body. 

<<Already know you need a high protein diet? Click here for my 7 Day Plant-Based High Protein Meal Plan>>

Keep this info in mind when choosing a protein powder:

  • Check out how much sugar your protein powder contains. Some may contain 6 grams of sugar in a scoop whereas others have 1 gram per scoop. Ideally, you’re going to choose an unsweetened protein powder or at least one with no more than 2 grams of sugar per scoop. 
  • Some people, like those with IBS, are especially sensitive to sugar alcohols causing diarrhea and gas. Read the protein powder’s ingredient list – if it ends in -ol, it’s probably sugar alcohol. Examples include: mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol, and others.
  • Check the label for independent third-party testing since the FDA does not regulate supplements, such as protein powders. 
  • If you’re vegan, you should consider choosing a protein powder that is a complete protein (containing all of the essential amino acids), such as one may of soy. Pea protein technically is a complete protein too, but it contains only a small amount of the amino acid methionine.
  • Lactose intolerant? Whey isolate has some lactose but not much. You may be able to tolerate it if you’re only mildly lactose intolerant, but there are also plenty of lactose-free alternatives out there for you to try. If you’re allergic to milk and not just intolerant, PLEASE avoid whey protein! 

In its simplest form, proffee is only protein powder in coffee. It CAN be good for you if you’re worried that you’re not eating enough protein or want to up your game at the gym. Can protein coffee be bad for you? Sure. Too much caffeine can be anything from annoying (can’t sleep) to dangerous (heart problems, miscarriage, etc.). Too much protein also has its problems. And those mouth-watering proffee recipes full of syrups, creamers, whipped cream, sprinkles, and caramel drizzles? I definitely don’t recommend that my clients drink those on a daily basis!

Make Your Proffee Healthier

  1. Skip the syrup – especially if you’re already using a sweetened protein powder. Instead, why not try adding cinnamon or another spice to your proffee recipe? 
  2. Choose nonfat or lowfat milk/dairy substitute. 
  3. If you make your protein coffee with a milk substitute, choose one that is a good source of calcium and also that has protein. Yes, you’re already getting protein in the protein powder, but let’s face it – you’re probably not only going to be using your milk substitute in profee. Might as well get the most from your non-dairy milk, whether you’re eating it with cereal, adding it to smoothies, or even drinking a glass on its own. Rice milk, almond milk, oat milk, and coconut milk aren’t naturally good sources of protein. Soy milk usually has around 8 grams of protein per cup (8 ounces), the same as a glass of milk. Avoiding soy? Silk has an ice coffee, cold coffee, coffee-4379391.jpg

    How to Make Protein Coffee

    Ready to try some protein coffee recipes? 

    Protein Coffee with Espresso and Protein Powder

    In a shaker, add 1 scoop of protein powder to 1 cup of water or milk (non-dairy milk is also okay). Give it a vigorous shake until the powder has dissolved. Pour it into a glass with 1-2 shots of espresso (depending on your taste and caffeine needs) and a handful of ice cubes. *Another option is to blend all of the ingredients together in a blender.

    Protein Coffee with Cold Brew Coffee and Protein Powder

    Add 1 scoop of protein powder to 1 cup of cold brew coffee (option: add ¼ cup of milk or milk substitute). Give it a good shake until the protein powder dissolves in the coffee. Pour over a glass of ice. *You can also choose to skip the shaker and blend the coffee, protein powder, and ice in a blender.

    Protein Coffee with Ready to Use Protein Shake

    Instead of buying protein powder for your proffee, you can also choose to use a ready-to-use protein shake. Most come in 11-ounce bottles. You don’t even need a shaker for this – just add the protein shake of your choice to either shots of espresso, cold brew, or even drip coffee. Premier Protein shakes and Iconic is another dairy-based protein drink. It’s sugar-free but instead of sugar alcohols, it uses stevia and monk fruit. Owyn offers a vegan protein shake that is also sweetened with monk fruit. 

    Bottom Line

    So there you have it – the lowdown on protein coffee!

    Most Americans get plenty of protein, so you probably don’t NEED to add protein powder to your coffee. In fact, too much protein can even be dangerous, especially for certain medical conditions – yikes. If you like the taste, are worried you aren’t consuming enough protein, and don’t have concerns about caffeine intake, then you can enjoy proffee and even get some health benefits from it. Just choose a protein powder that works for you and limit added sugars. 

    If you have any doubts, I’m happy to review your diet and let you know whether you need more protein – just send me a message and we can schedule a quick online consult. 

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