Experiencing a new wave of popularity, whey protein powder is no longer only a favorite protein supplement for bodybuilders and serious athletes. A fast and easily digestible form of protein, whey can be used by just about anyone as a way to introduce more protein into their diet.
Whey is one of the two proteins found in cow’s milk. It is a high quality protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It is particularly high in branched-chain amino acids, required for muscle repair and preservation (1).
Whey protein has multiple health benefits beyond muscle building. It can contribute to weight loss, help to lower cholesterol, improve immune system function, and speed up recovery after exercise. This makes it an appealing protein powder option for many to add to their daily routine.
Whey protein is extremely versatile, it can be added to shakes, sprinkled on cereal, or made into bars or protein balls. Contrary to popular belief, it can even be mixed into your morning coffee to increase the nutrient content of your favorite morning beverage.
Coffee and Protein Powder? What about the Heat?
There is concern that mixing whey protein in hot coffee might decrease the nutritional value through the process of ‘denaturing’ or breaking down of the protein. While there is some merit to this claim there is definitely more to understand about whey protein and heat.
Denaturation of Whey Protein
Denaturing occurs when a substance is altered from its natural form in some way. In the case of protein, acid and extreme heat will change its structure, breaking down the amino acids. The chains of amino acids will denature when they begin to be “unfolded” from their natural state. Basically, the protein begins to be broken down or digested.
A 2017 study attempted to determine the whey protein denaturation temperature. How much of the whey protein was denatured had to do with the temperature and the time exposed to the temperature. They found that the whey protein was completely denatured at 85 degrees Celsius (185 degrees Fahrenheit). But only 46% denatured at 75 degrees Celsius (167 degrees Fahrenheit) (2).
Coffee is optimally served between 160 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit (3). This means that hot coffee does have the potential to create denatured whey protein in your cup. Does this mean you shouldn’t add it to your morning coffee for a protein boost? Yes and no. It depends what you want out of your whey protein.
Whey Protein In Coffee: Should You Add It?
In order to maximize the benefit of whey protein concentrate, like our Vital Whey, it is best not to do anything to denature the protein, including adding protein to coffee or heating it in other ways. The reason is that whey protein concentrate contains very delicate proteins called bioactive peptides that help support your immune system.
So in order to get all the benefits from taking whey concentrate, you should try to avoid denatured whey protein by not adding it to hot coffee or mixing it with acidic foods.
Just because the most optimal, natural state of something is altered, doesn’t mean it’s rendered useless and protein is no exception. Yes, exposing the protein to heat will start to unfold the amino acid structure. But, that is as far as this claim goes.
According to Cornell University, although whey protein is sensitive to heat, mixing protein powder with coffee will not alter the amino acid composition or any undo effect on the protein’s nutritional benefit. It will still be a great source of all nine essential amino acids that your body needs to support healthy muscle growth and repair. This means it can still be used to increase satiety, build muscle, and support a healthy metabolism.
As we mentioned, it is important to be aware though that heat can decrease the amount of lacto-globulins in the protein which is one consideration when deciding to put whey protein in coffee. But the bottom line is cooked or uncooked, hot or cold, your body will still gain some benefit from the added protein.
Even we like to vary how we use our protein powder from time to time. So don’t hesitate to add whey protein to your coffee or oatmeal for an extra morning protein boost. You can even try baking it into muffins or homemade energy bars.
It is always ok to think beyond the shake. Adding protein powder to your diet in a way that works for you is most important. And let’s be honest, sometimes shakes get boring or you just want something warm! So don’t fret about denatured whey protein, the majority of the nutritional content and health benefits will endure even after mixing protein powder with coffee or any other ingredient of your choice.
How to Add Whey Protein to Hot Coffee
If you decide to add whey protein to coffee you should try to do it in a specific way. If you simply dump a scoop of whey protein powder straight into your freshly brewed java, you will most likely be left with a gross, lumpy mess. Instead before you mix, allow the coffee to cool down before you add in the protein powder.
You can either just add ice to cool it down quickly, turning it into an iced coffee. Or you can add milk or cream to your coffee to immediately cool it down. Or if you don’t like milk in your coffee, set it aside (or even in the fridge) until the temperature decreases.
Once it has cooled, you can start adding the whey protein. If you want to add an entire scoop of protein powder (this will provide you with around 16g of protein), add half the scoop first and let the powder dissolve, followed by the second half. Don’t move too quickly or it will not be able to completely dissolve, leaving big clumps in your drink.
A great way to make your coffee even more enjoyable is to add different flavors of whey protein into your coffee. This can help you create a nutritious and delicious version of your favorite coffee shop drink. Try adding vanilla protein powder to coffee mimic a French vanilla latte. Adding chocolate will make it a protein-rich mocha. If you really want to try something new, add in banana or strawberry whey powder.
Another way to add whey protein powder in coffee is to make a high protein coffee flavored shake. Make a shake just like you normally would by adding ice, whey protein, and a liquid of choice. Substitute half the liquid with coffee for a delicious and healthy blended drink. This will taste like one of those high calorie blended coffee drinks you can buy at your favorite coffee shop, but with a lot less sugar and calories, but with way more nutrition.
So, Can You Put Whey Protein in Coffee?
Yes! You absolutely can put whey protein in coffee as long as you do it slowly and in the right way. Protein powder is meant to be versatile and used in the way that is best for you. Remember that while the protein will denature in coffee, the denaturing process is not complete and there will still be many of the other nutrition and protein benefits you were after in the first place.
One final thought: If you are taking a high quality non-denatured whey exclusively for the immune supporting benefits tied to the most sensitive components (Immunoglobulins, Lactoferrin, etc), you probably want to avoid mixing with coffee. On the other hand, if you are like most people who are just looking for a convenient protein boost in your daily routine, this can be a great option for you and your family.
Adding protein powder to coffee is easy and delicious. So stretch your muscles and jump start your day with a protein and flavor infused coffee, a treat for your body and your taste buds.
- Solak BB, Akin N. Health Benefits of Whey Protein: A Review. 2012;2(3):129-137.
- Qian F, Sun J, Cao D, Tuo Y, Jiang S, Mu G. Experimental and Modelling Study of the Denaturation of Milk Protein by Heat Treatment. Korean J Food Sci Anim Resour. 2017;37(1):44-51.
- Brown F, Diller KR. Calculating the optimum temperature for serving hot beverages. Burns. 2008;34(5):648-654.