Proffee: What Is Protein Coffee, And Is It Good For You?

It's a combination of cold-brew coffee and a protein shake, but is it too good to be true?
Jonathan Knowles via Getty Images

Once again, TikTok has introduced us to a viral coffee trend: Proffee (protein + coffee). The drink, which combines a protein shake and cold-brew coffee, may not be as Instagrammable as Dalgona, but it’s been lauded for helping Americans in their eternal quest to consume more protein.

Protein is essential for fueling the body, especially in the morning or after a workout to aid in muscle repair. But the reality is that most Americans are already consuming double their recommended daily allowance. With that in mind, is more protein really sound nutritional advice, especially if a well-balanced meal follows that proffee?

What exactly is proffee?

First, we had proats (protein oats). Then protein pasta and protein bread. Protein is also added to cereals, rice and cookies, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s now been added to coffee. With this latest iteration, proffee drinkers seem to follow a no-recipe recipe rather than sticking to hard-and-fast rules.

The basics include some version of a premade protein shake (Premier Protein is a fan favorite) added to black coffee (typically Starbucks cold brew). Some add a sweetener, some add syrups (Torani coffee syrup is popular). Some people use protein powders instead of premade shakes. Almost anything goes, really.

Is proffee healthy?

Breaking down the drink’s core components, there are two beneficial ingredients: coffee, which is full of antioxidants, and a protein powder or shake, which provides energy and supports muscle repair.

Protein powders and shakes can run the gamut: Some are simple plant or dairy-based protein blends, while others are a carnival funhouse of flavors, add-ins such as powdered greens and nootropics, and coloring, which means that consumers need to get label savvy.

The basics of proffee include some version of a protein shake added to black coffee.
Catherine Falls Commercial via Getty Images
The basics of proffee include some version of a protein shake added to black coffee.

Registered dietitian Amanda Frankeny said it’s best if you “keep your ingredients list short. Beware of lengthy lists of unpronounceable ingredients.” Some will be a better fit for you than others, depending on your nutritional needs, preferences, allergies and goals.

Sweeteners, both artificial and natural, are a common primary ingredient in protein supplements, clocking in at 4 to 5 teaspoons of added sugar per scoop. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends capping added sugars at “no more than 10% of daily caloric intake.”

“Look at the serving size and the percent daily value of added sugars on the nutrition facts label ― this can tell you how much added sugar is in a particular protein powder,” Kimberly Rose Francis, a registered dietitian, told HuffPost. “As a general rule, find an unsweetened protein powder.”

Frankeny said that ideally, people should go for a protein powder that has been third-party tested for purity and quality.

“Protein powders are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration but not frequently enough to provide proper quality assurance,” Frankeny said. “Look for one of these three certification organizations on the label of the product ― NSF [National Sanitation Foundation], Informed Choice or Clean Label Project.”

A pump of coffee syrup is another factor to consider, especially if your protein powder is already sweetened. Men should eat no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons, according to the American Heart Association.

“For this reason, one pump of any syrup into your proffee may very well be more than 1 teaspoon of added sugar,” Rose Francis said. “Even this small amount can put you over the edge when you consider the amount of hidden sugar found in a plethora of other foods and beverages typically consumed daily.”

Sweeteners, both artificial and natural, are a common primary ingredient in protein supplements.
Anna Efetova via Getty Images
Sweeteners, both artificial and natural, are a common primary ingredient in protein supplements.

Who might benefit from drinking proffee?

Most Americans already consume more than their required daily intake of protein. For a sedentary, 140-pound person, that comes out to around 51 grams of protein, or in the context of one day of eating, about 3 ounces of meat, two eggs, 1 cup of milk and 1/4 cup of almonds, Frankeny said.

Dietitians said if you’re already eating a well-rounded diet, consuming a combination of healthy fats, protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, you likely don’t need to add a protein powder or supplement. Those with difficulties meeting these needs may include vegetarians or vegans, people with certain allergies or sensitivities, and individuals with strenuous exercise routines.

While proffee may not be unhealthy, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a complete meal or even a nutritionally sound snack. This is because it lacks vitamins, minerals and fiber, dietitians said. To bump up the nutritional value, Rose Francis suggested adding “a wholesome sandwich made from two pieces of whole-grain bread, sliced tomatoes, lettuce and avocado, low-fat cheese and sliced turkey.”

“If you desire to have proffee as a snack, pair it with something small like half a bagel with low-fat cream cheese and sliced salmon, or a scone topped with nut butter,” Francis said.

It could be the ideal pre-workout fuel.

Before you scoff at proffee and its seemingly superfluous addition to the world of fuel, it does have some benefits. For serious gym rats, it just might be the ideal pre-workout drink.

“Because caffeine stimulates, it makes a great physiological pick-me-up. It also may improve physical performance,” Rose Francis said.

When caffeine is paired with the protein, physical and muscular performance can improve. A study published in the journal Nutrients found that active individuals who consumed caffeine and amino acids (which is what protein is) experienced a boost in high-intensity exercise performance. Specifically, participants who had around 5 to 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight — or around 375 milligrams (which amounts to a large coffee with a single espresso shot) for a 150-pound woman — noticed increased performance.

Does protein enhance the effects of caffeine?

Unfortunately, protein consumed with coffee does little to enhance the length of our java buzz, according to registered dietitian Barbara Ruhs, as most caffeine absorbs within 45 minutes of consumption. Caffeine is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, while protein is digested in the stomach. However, the addition of any food can slow down that process slightly, so choose something you enjoy alongside your brew.

Finally, more is not necessarily better when it comes to protein or coffee. Overconsumption of protein can lead to certain side effects, from the benign to the serious.

“Eating too much protein at once causes your body to excrete the excess, as well as cause indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and irritability,” Frankeny said. “Chronic overconsumption puts people at risk for kidney and liver problems, cardiovascular disease, vascular disorders, seizures and death.”

So enjoy a proffee if it satisfies you or gives you that extra oomph at the gym, but a well-balanced meal or snack works just as well, if not better.

Expert-Recommended Protein Supplements

An option with collagen
Vital Proteins
Ruhs adds collagen peptides to her morning coffee and loves that Vital Proteins “offer a variety of sources of collagen, from bovine (cow) to marine sources.”

Get Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides for $24.98.
A ready-made shake
“I’m a big fan of this brand because they offer so many options — from plant-based, whey protein (animal) as well as RTD (ready-to-drink) and powders," Ruhs said.

Get Orgain Nutrition Shakes (12) for $26.94.
Help for your muscles
“Myprotein Whey Isolate is popular because it’s protein broken down into its simplest form, making it easy to digest. It’s affordable, too," Frankeny said. "This product has been quality-tested by Consumer Labs and is NSF-certified, so you know what you’re getting.”

Get Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate for $24.99.
A vegan option
“Natural Unflavored is ideal for diabetics or those with a plant-slanted diet," Frankeny said. "It’s the cheapest of all these proteins on this list. But with a thin texture and slightly bitter taste, it’s best in smoothies.”

Get NOW Sports Pea Protein, Pure Unflavored Powder for $46.14 (for seven pounds' worth).
A well-balanced option
“Nutiva is another plant-forward protein. I like it because it brings vitamins, minerals and naturally occurring oil and fiber from the hemp seed," Frankeny

Get Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein Powder for $13.90.

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