TikTok is the birthplace of many food trends, and it’s also home to an ever-evolving fitness culture. The convergence of these two themes has given rise to a popular new drink category: protein coffee. Sometimes called “proffee,” the trend is more like a type of drink than one exact recipe.
What is protein coffee?
Protein coffee can be made by mixing coffee or espresso with protein powder or a pre-made protein shake. It’s worth noting that it’s much more common to see protein coffee as an iced drink, since protein powder might not blend well with hot coffee, and protein shakes are usually already cold.
However, protein coffee hasn’t become popular just because it’s tasty and simple, there are a lot of health claims going around about its potential benefits. But does it really stack up?
Is “proffee” healthy?
You might’ve heard that protein coffee prevents cravings, helps maintain energy, and can aid in muscle growth. With these claims, it’s no surprise that proffee is taking social media by storm. But just how much truth is there to these assertions?
As far as cravings are concerned, it’s true that having protein in the morning (or really, at every meal) can help reduce cravings if they are caused by blood sugar fluctuations. While protein coffee can help curb cravings, you could just as easily manage by reaching for protein sources with breakfast like eggs or yogurt.
It’s also important to acknowledge that there are many complex reasons someone may be experiencing cravings and increasing protein intake is only addressing one of these potential causes: blood sugar fluctuations. Beyond this, cravings can also be emotional, a response to an overly restrictive diet, hormones, or a response to nutrient deficiency. In any of these cases, protein coffee isn’t a cure and additional help may be needed.
As for energy, it’s no secret that regular coffee has caffeine. But energy can be tricky to discuss because technically, any food with calories provides energy. In this case, protein coffee would in fact provide more energy than regular coffee. But, someone’s perception of their energy and fatigue can be affected by how their blood sugar responds to a meal. It’s common for a meal that lacks protein and fat to have the effect of a “sugar crash” shortly after eating. This is because protein is digested more slowly and slows down how quickly blood sugar rises after a meal, so meals with added protein can help you to feel full longer and to have more of a sustained feeling of energy, versus a rapid increase followed by a quick crash.
Like with cravings, this effect is true of any protein source. Protein coffee is fast and convenient if you’re already a coffee drinker, but it’s not going to be any more effective than other protein sources.
One thing to keep in mind is that our bodies fundamentally need food (a.k.a. calories) to have energy. It’s very common for people to skip breakfast in the morning, and for those that forego the meal, it makes sense that people who switch from plain old coffee to protein coffee are going to experience an increase in energy. Think about it, they’re going from having just coffee to coffee with protein and calories. But if someone is already eating breakfast (especially one already high in protein, like an omelet) and swaps their regular coffee for protein coffee, they may not notice a difference.
Can protein coffee help you reach your fitness goals?
Fans of protein coffee also claim it aids with muscle growth, which is why it’s popular among the fitness crowd. It’s true; your body can use dietary protein to help repair damage to muscle tissue (like from weight lifting) and support muscle growth. For people who struggle to eat enough protein from their normal meals, a quick option like a protein shake or protein coffee can help support fitness goals like muscle growth and increased strength, if paired with resistance exercise. Just like with the other supposed benefits of proffee, though, this is the case for any protein source. The advantage of protein coffee is simply that it’s a convenient way to get that protein.
Is protein coffee worth it?
The most important thing to remember about nutrition is that context matters. No one can say definitively if protein coffee is healthy or unhealthy because every situation, and every body, is different.
That being said, it is important to have some protein in the morning because of its impact on hunger, cravings, and energy—and protein coffee is certainly a convenient way to accomplish this. While in general whole food protein sources like eggs may be preferable to a protein powder or pre-made protein shake, if the alternative is no breakfast or breakfast with zero protein, then proffee is a huge improvement.
On the other hand, if you’re already eating a full breakfast that includes protein, there’s very little benefit to adding extra protein to your coffee. In fact, an extra protein shake or protein coffee for someone who’s already eating a complete breakfast may cause them to ignore their fullness signals and add more food than they actually need (and more calories).
Protein coffee can be a great option for people who have trouble eating in the morning, either because they don’t have enough time or they just don't feel hungry until later in the day. In these cases, protein coffee is a great, convenient option.
The bottom line
If you find yourself skipping your morning meal, proffee might just be the way to keep you energized and satisfied. But, if you regularly eat a protein-packed breakfast, you can forego this fad and enjoy your regular cup.