What's Up With People's Love Of Protein-Packed Everything?

Growing up, most of us learned about healthy eating through the "food pyramid" — a diagram that illustrates how much of each food group we should consume as part of a balanced diet, with carbs at the bottom, proteins in the middle, and fats at the top. Although the food pyramid was eventually scrapped, new dietary guidelines in the U.S. called MyPlate continue to identify protein as a key food group. Protein helps our bodies to repair cells and grow, so it makes sense that we need a high amount of it to stay healthy. 

People have always found creative ways to up their protein intake via powders, shakes, and other post-workout products. But recently, protein-packed foods and drinks have been gaining a significant amount of traction on TikTok. The trend seems to heavily involve people mixing protein powder into coffee in particular, with videos tagged #proteincoffee and the portmanteau #proffee surpassing hundreds of millions of views. Other accounts like @theproteinchef — who has tens of thousands of likes across his videos — include recipes for breakfast options and desserts filled with protein powder, such as baked oatmeal, microwave cheesecake, and mug cake. Even recipes that aren't overloaded with powder and instead use other food sources like beans or tofu, like loaded sweet potato and pasta sauce, are tagged as protein-packed or high-protein. The common denominator seems to be that these are foods and drinks we wouldn't usually associate with "healthy eating," being transformed into supposed health foods.

How much protein do we really need?

Undoubtedly, this craze is connected to the recent, broader shift toward diet culture on TikTok, where creators are swapping out everyday snacks and meal ingredients for "healthier" alternatives. You only have to look at similar crazes like Watertok — which has faced extensive criticism for encouraging disordered eating — to understand why protein-packing has taken off in such a big way. Add to this the continued popularity of bulking content and meal prepping on TikTok, and it makes sense why protein powder in particular is seen as the wellness industry's ingredient du jour.


Replying to @Kimmy😆💄💋💅🏼 Protein iced coffee is a true GAME CHANGER 😍🙌🏼 #proteinicedcoffee #proteincoffeerecipe #highproteinrecipe #highprotein

♬ original sound – Jaz McLellan

In reality, we don't need excessive amounts of protein. According to Healthline, the average amount of protein an adult should consume per day is around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. In pounds, that's around 54 grams a day for a 150-pound person living a sedentary lifestyle, and we can achieve this through eating meat or meat substitutes. But protein intake also varies depending on our exercise routines. So someone burning calories at the gym will need a higher amount and might benefit from whey powder. Those of us who sit at our desks all day probably do not. Either way, while getting enough protein is beneficial for everyone, getting too much is unnecessary. 

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).