Whether you casually follow Instagram fitness influencers, subscribe to several YouTube workout channels, or regularly troll fitness Reddit boards, you may have come across Kodiak Power Cakes on your feed. People write in-depth taste test reviews, make videos about how they prepare their pancakes, and post photos of the pancakes that will make you want brunch immediately. But what are they and what makes them so powerful?
Kodiak Power Cakes aren't that special, they're just whole wheat buttermilk pancakes that contain 14 grams of whey protein isolate per serving. Since proteins are the "building blocks of life," it's helpful to always have a source of protein at each meal, not only to help you meet your needs, but also to feel satiated, says Kathleen Meehan, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian in Houston, Texas. While you can get protein from a variety of whole foods (like eggs, yogurt, chicken, and nuts), some people take supplements or powders. But protein powder can taste gritty or dry when added to foods and drinks, and Power Cakes integrate the whey protein into the dry pancake mix. So, all you have to do is add water and fry them.
According to Joel Clark, CEO of Kodiak Cakes, Power Cakes really "hit a home run" with millennials, because they're healthy, taste good, and are super convenient. Clark got the idea for Power Cakes back in 2010, because he started lifting weights and read about the benefits of eating more protein. "At first we thought [selling protein pancakes] was too niche, or too 'GNC,'" Clark says. After experimenting with the formulation, they made a high-protein pancake mix, and these days, Power Cakes are the brand's number one selling item.
So, Power Cakes are definitely popular, but are they good for you? It depends. Adding protein powder to a food doesn't automatically make it "healthier," because the amount of protein that one person needs depends on several factors, like a person's activity level, age, and gender, Meehan says. (Not to mention, "healthier" is subjective.) "You can meet your protein needs by adding a variety [of foods] — you don't need a protein supplement," she says. In general, most people should aim to have around 25 grams of protein per meal, although that can vary based on the person.
People who exercise a lot, are trying to gain muscle, or are training for an endurance race typically require more protein than someone who's sedentary, says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. While carbohydrates are your body's main source of energy, protein helps repair your muscles after exercise. Essentially anyone who exercises consistently will need more protein to support muscle recovery, "but they also need more food in general," Meehan says.
Compared to other foods, pancakes don't have a lot of protein, so adding protein makes sense in that it can increase their nutritional benefit, Zeitlin says. But protein is just one aspect of a balanced meal: You also should make sure that you're getting fiber, by adding fruit, using whole wheat pancake mix, or making them with bananas, she says. "Too much of anything can add up quickly and backfire," she says.
The bottom line: If you are just craving pancakes or in the mood for something sweet at brunch, you should go ahead and get them. "You don't need to 'healthify' your pancakes in order to eat them," Meehan says. Meaning, you don't need to have protein pancakes or avoid regular "low-protein" pancakes in order to be healthy, she says. Health is nuanced, which is what often gets lost in translation when a too-good-to-be-true food achieves viral fame.