What do you get when you take a protein drink or powder and mix it with cold-brewed coffee or iced espresso shots? Proffee, according to the viral trend on TikTok. The hashtag has amassed more than four million views, with even medical practitioners in scrubs touting the concoction as a protein-packed pick-me-up that aids in weight loss.
While the specific ingredients of proffee can vary from person to person, sometimes involving almond milk, sugar-free syrups, stevia, or even zero-sugar chocolate syrup, Tara Collingwood, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Orlando, Florida, explains that it usually involves some type of coffee and a protein source, specifically protein powder or a high-protein drink. She herself has been drinking a tea version of proffee for years, adding one-third container of Premier Protein shake to her tea every morning. “It is creamy and a little sweet and perfect in my big travel mug of tea that I sip on all morning,” she says.
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Is Protein in the Morning Important?
It is widely known that protein is beneficial for a variety of reasons, from maintaining or increasing muscle mass to protecting the body from viruses and bacteria. Recent research, however, indicates that the time of the day when you consume protein matters, too. Many people eat their most protein-heavy meal in the evening, which research has found to be less than optimal. The American Society of Nutrition explains that too much protein consumed later in the day (30 grams or more) cannot be stored for later use and is either used for energy or stored as fat. For reference, one four-ounce steak has 25 grams of protein, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Research published in the Journal of Nutrition concluded that participants who consumed a moderate amount of high-quality protein three times a day had greater muscle protein synthesis (a process used to build muscle) than those who ate the majority of their protein at night. In fact, those who evenly distributed protein throughout the day experienced 25 percent more muscle protein synthesis than those who ate most of their protein in one sitting.
“Protein should be spread out throughout the day, because our bodies can only use a certain amount at a time,” says Collingwood. She recommends getting 20 to 30 grams of protein each morning for breakfast. “We do need carbs for energy, but carbs get used up quickly and can leave us feeling hungry,” she explains. “Protein gives more staying power to the breakfast.”
A study published in December 2019 in Clinical Nutrition Experimental found that a single high-protein breakfast (one in which slightly more than half the calories came from protein) had a greater effect on hormones that regulate appetite than a low-protein breakfast, and those who consumed the high-protein breakfast were less hungry later on. The study authors noted that this effect did not apply to all satiety hormones.
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Is Drinking Protein Better Than Eating It?
Why drink protein? “When protein is not coupled with soluble fiber and fats, it can move more quickly through the digestion process,” explains Jackie Newgent, RDN, a plant-forward culinary nutritionist in New York City and the author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook. “Protein in a liquid form may lead to quicker absorption because when you’re chewing food, you’re not eating just straight-up protein.”
Collingwood agrees that may be true in theory, but says there is no definitive research backing up that statement. “We do know that liquid gets absorbed and digested more quickly than solid food, so it does make sense that protein in liquid may also get absorbed and utilized more quickly.”
Does It Matter Whether Proffee Is Made With Decaf or Regular Coffee?
Because caffeine is a stimulant, decaf proffee is not going to offer the same results as caffeinated. “Caffeine should have a significant effect on protein utilization and absorption,” explains Collingwood. Newgent says that because caffeine is a natural stimulant, it can also accelerate the digestion process. “It can stimulate movement in the digestive tract,” she adds.
While there is significant stand-alone research on both the health benefits and risks of coffee and protein separately, there don’t seem to be any studies focusing on how they work together. Nevertheless, while caffeinated proffee may work faster, decaf proffee will still get you the protein.
What Are Some Easy Ways to Add Protein to Your Coffee?
Collingwood makes her proffee with a liquid protein shake, but uses only one-third of the carton, which amounts to about 50 calories and 10 grams of protein. “It mixes in nicely and doesn’t need to dissolve like a powder may have to,” she explains. Protein powder is less expensive, though, and works just as well: Just mix a scoop of any flavor you prefer into your coffee.
Of course, unless you are an athlete with high energy needs, Newgent says, “You don’t need to rely on protein powder. Most people can get plenty of protein via real food.” She adds that many protein powders are highly processed and won’t offer all the nutritional benefits of protein-rich whole foods, especially plant-based picks.
Instead, you can add protein-rich whole foods to your coffee. “Try a proffee smoothie by blending up cold-brewed coffee with plant-based milk, cocoa powder, banana, and nut butter,” suggests Newgent.
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Are There Any Risks to Drinking Proffee?
“It’s possible to go overboard on protein — and proffee,” maintains Newgent. The biggest risk is exceeding your recommended daily amount of protein and caffeine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says adults should consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily, which translates to about four to five cups of coffee. Per the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound — about 56 grams of protein per day for the average man, and 46 grams for the average woman.
A review published in International Scholarly Research Notes found that excess protein may not be efficiently used by the body, imposing a “metabolic burden on the bones, kidneys, and liver.” Newgent says that people at risk for kidney disease may need to steer clear of high-protein intakes, citing a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology in August 2020.
In terms of caffeine, short-term side effects of too much can include migraines, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, restlessness, frequent urination, stomach upset, fast heartbeat, and muscle tremors. A review of studies published in May 2017 in Frontiers in Psychiatry warned that pregnant women, children, and individuals with mental illness are particularly “vulnerable” to the harmful effects of caffeine. “People who need to avoid excess caffeine, such as those with certain heart conditions, will want to go for decaf proffee,” says Newgent.
Collingwood says a daily cup of proffee can add a much needed protein boost, especially because it offers more vitamins and nutrients. “It is better than adding a bunch of coffee creamer that is mostly fat and has no nutritional value,” she points out. Protein powders or shakes are typically fortified with lots of vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, and B vitamins.
Should You Try Proffee?
Should you start your day with proffee? “If you like to grab a cup of joe in the morning, yet you’re skipping breakfast — or not getting much protein in your morning meal — then proffee may be a good fit for you if made in a wholesome way,” says Newgent.
To reap maximum benefits and avoid any side effects, make sure to account for how much protein and caffeine you are consuming the rest of the day.