If you’re looking to sneak more protein into your diet or want to make your morning cup of coffee a little more filling and satisfying, drinking protein powder in coffee is an easy way to do it. Learn why dietitians love this trend, its benefits, and how you can add protein to your coffee.
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You may have seen people putting protein shakes in their coffee or drinking specialty protein coffee creamers with their morning cup of Joe and wondered what the benefits might be or if you should try adding protein powder to your coffee each morning.
There are plenty of benefits to drinking protein coffee in the morning, especially if you have trouble eating enough protein each day or if you happen to skip or postpone breakfast.
And there’s no one way to add protein to coffee – if you drink it iced or hot, espresso, drip, or instant – there’s a way for you to enjoy the tasty benefits of protein coffee.
As a registered dietitian, I add protein to my own coffee several times a week, and encourage many people to give it a try if they’re struggling to eat breakfast in the morning, need to add more protein to their breakfast, or just need a little protein boost.
In this article, we’re covering what protein coffee is, the health benefits, and the many different ways to add protein to coffee.
What is protein coffee?
A typical cup of coffee has no calories, no fat, no carbohydrates, and no protein. But, most of us are reliant on the caffeine boost it gives us, and if you’re like me, look forward to that first piping hot sip each morning.
Adding protein to coffee, whether you’re using a protein powder, a pre-mixed protein shake, or a specialty high-protein coffee creamer, adds much-needed nutrition to an otherwise nutrient-poor drink.
Depending on the way you add protein to your coffee and how much, a cup of protein coffee can have anywhere from a couple of grams of protein to 10 or more.
Health benefits of protein coffee
Adding protein to your coffee is not necessary, but if you want to try it out, there are plenty of potential health benefits:
Improve your morning workout
Drinking caffeine (from your morning cup of coffee!) up to an hour before a workout can improve your exercise performance, particularly if you’re doing something aerobic like running or a spin class. Adding protein to that caffeine can add even more benefits.
In one small study, people who completed a treadmill workout after eating 25 grams of protein burned significantly more calories after their workout than those who had the same amount of just carbohydrates and somewhat more than those who ate nothing before their workout.
If resistance training is a part of your regular workout routine, a morning cup of protein coffee may help you improve muscle mass and strength. Whether you drink it before or after your session may not be as important as that extra protein helping you meet your daily needs to aid in muscle repair and growth.
Increase your total protein
This is the most important reason to get a little extra protein boost in the morning. Protein needs can be misleading, so knowing an approximate amount you need and aiming to get close to it each day can help you feel energized and satisfied, improve muscle growth, strength, and recovery, and help you feel in control around food (a big win for someone who can’t stop snacking at the end of the day!)
So, how much protein do you need? A March 2016 review in Food and Function found that we need around 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.7 grams per pound of body weight to support optimal muscle growth and recovery if you’re an active person, and around 1.3 grams per kilogram or 0.6 grams per pound of body weight if you’re moderately active.
If you’re in the business of bodybuilding, you may need as much as 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, but most of us will notice optional benefits at 1.6 grams per kilogram.
For someone who’s 150 pounds, that’s 105 grams of protein each day, spread out over 3-5 eating experiences is 21-35 grams of protein at each meal or snack. Adding protein to your coffee can help you reach your daily protein goals.
Add more protein to your breakfast
“Adding protein powder to your coffee is an easy way to boost your morning protein intake,” says Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES owner of The Plant Strong Dietitian, LLC. “Protein slows down digestion and carbohydrate metabolism, which benefits satiety and blood sugar regulation,” Berger adds.
This means you’ll have longer-lasting even energy throughout the morning and are more likely to feel full for several hours, so you’re not reaching for a snack an hour after breakfast.
Drinking protein coffee with a lower-protein breakfast can help you meet your needs. Typical breakfast foods like toast, oatmeal, English muffins, and even eggs aren’t going to give you the 20-30 grams of protein you need with breakfast.
Drink your protein coffee and use one of my favorite ways to add protein to your oatmeal for a satisfying and energizing start to the day!
Break your fast
If you struggle to eat breakfast because you’re not hungry enough to eat but you always have room for your cup of coffee, adding protein powder can help you break your fast, get much-needed nutrition, and kickstart your metabolism for the day. “It's a convenient way to increase protein without adding too much extra volume or calories,” says Kathryn Piper RDN LD NBC-HWC of The Age-Defying Dietitian.
Can protein coffee replace breakfast?
Protein coffee is not a replacement for a balanced breakfast, but it can help you get a little nutrition in if you struggle to eat early in the morning. A typical cup of protein coffee may have 100 calories or less, depending on what and how much protein powder you use. This isn’t enough to power you through a morning of activity.
“Protein powders are intended to supplement the diet, not take the place of real food,” says Mandy Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD, at Nutrition By Mandy. Look at protein coffee as a bridge to help you until you have the appetite for breakfast or as a nutrient boost to your morning meal.
How to make protein coffee
There are endless ways to add protein to your coffee, and you’ll no doubt enjoy some methods better than others. Here are a few possible ideas to get you started.
Add protein powder directly to your coffee
You can add protein powder directly to your coffee, but not all types of protein will mix with every temperature of the coffee. For example, whey coagulates in hot liquids, meaning if you add the powder to a hot cup of coffee, you’ll be left with a clumpy mess. But whey isolate or hydrolyzed whey will mix into hot liquids a little easier.
Plant proteins generally mix well directly into hot liquids, but depending on other ingredients, it could also lead to clumping.
Here are a few of my favorite protein powders:
- Now Foods Whey Protein Isolate Creamy Vanilla
- Clean Simple Eats Simply Vanilla
- Orgain Vegan Protein Powder Cookies and Cream
Mix protein powder with another liquid first
To avoid clumping, heat your favorite milk to just about room temperature and blend or shake with protein powder. Then, add this mixture to your coffee.
You could also do this with a milk frother for a latte-like consistency!
Use a pre-mixed protein shake
For the creamiest protein coffee, use a pre-mixed protein shake. These are often more expensive, but one protein shake can be used over 2 to 3 mornings, depending on how much you add to your cup of coffee.
Here are a few of my favorite protein shakes to use for protein coffee:
- Orgain Grass Fed Whey Sweet Vanilla Bean
- Premier Protein Cafe Latte (has added caffeine and a coffee taste!)
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Vanilla
Use a specialty protein coffee creamer
There are several brands of high-protein coffee creamer on the market that use either collagen, whey, or plant protein to give you anywhere from 5 to 10 grams of protein per serving.
Many of these are flavored and come with an added benefit of fats to help you feel more satisfied by your protein coffee, which can be helpful if you have trouble eating early in the morning.
These protein coffee creamers come mostly as powders, although there are a few liquid creamer brands on the market.
The benefit of using a protein or collagen coffee creamer is that it’s more likely to blend into a creamy consistency added directly into your coffee so that you can skip the pre-mix step!
Here are some potential protein coffee creamers to try:
Make it hot
Now for the temperature debate. I always start my day with a hot cup of coffee, even in the burning heat of summer.
All of the methods above work for hot coffee, although remember to mix with a liquid at room temperature first, especially if using a whey concentrate powder. You can use drip coffee, instant coffee, or espresso.
Make it iced
Adding protein powder to cold brew coffee is an incredibly delicious way to get an energy, protein, and happiness boost all in one. Iced coffees are my late-morning go-to in the summer, and adding protein to it helps keep me full and satisfied until lunch.
Since not all protein powder will mix well with ice-cold liquid either, I recommend mixing the powder with room-temperature milk before adding it to the cold coffee (or using a pre-mixed shake).
Don’t want to use protein powder? “My personal favorite is adding high-protein chocolate milk to coffee – a delicious, protein-rich way to start the day,” says Tyler.
The bottom line
Whether you’re mixing protein powder with coffee, using a protein shake in your coffee, or adding a specialty high-protein coffee creamer, drinking protein coffee can have a number of health benefits, from improving exercise performance to hitting your daily protein goals and feeling more full and satisfied.
While it’s by no means necessary, especially if it’s not something you enjoy, putting protein in your coffee increases the nutritional benefit of your morning cup of Joe and may give you longer-lasting energy for a healthier morning!