Hold the whey: Why pea protein is a more sustainable alternative

Spend It Better: Protein supplements are a huge driver of Ireland’s dairy intensification

I have been the person who gets up from chairs by pressing down hard with my hands. It gives me a zero on the chair stand test . This measures how many times in 30 seconds you can stand up out of a chair without using your arms (17 is above average). Boring story short: my knee has been creaky. There have been months without running. Strengthening exercises were done nightly while watching episodes of My Brilliant Friend. Quad development was more successful than developing an ear for Neopolitan dialect.

It all led me to be the kind of person who takes a scoop of powder out of a tub and shakes it up, ensuring that the silty lumps are all dissolved. I eat little to no meat (bar an occasional chunk of Rare Ruminare steak from Clive Bright’s Sligo farm). In the last two years I have swapped a sedentary job for a manual one, digging, lifting, asking things of my old bones and muscles that may require some pay back.

It’s confusing the algorithms. I get recipes for protein muffins in between ads for comfy dungarees. The hard-bodied young people are a glimpse of the hard sell behind the online flogging of protein, with the promise that you too can look like a bag of walnuts and deadlift a fridge if you suck down enough expensive powder. It seems like the market in making young women hate their bodies got saturated so it swung around to young men.

Intensive dairy

Protein supplements are a huge driver of Ireland’s dairy intensification. Whey, the byproduct of the cheese industry, was routinely flushed into rivers and the sea a generation ago. Then it transitioned into the most lucrative part of milking cows. Glanbia has been the world’s largest producer of “sports nutrition” products for nearly two decades. The global market is estimated at more than €13 billion.


But intensive dairy is damaging our rivers and seas, engineering biodiversity loss and driving up our carbon emissions with dangerously warming methane. Regenerative, organic farming is going to be the only future for Ireland’s dairy industry. Future aging women will need a product that’s not damaging ecosystems while fixing their banjaxed knees.

My knees are thanking peas. These are plants that fix nitrogen in soil. Pea protein doesn’t have the decades-long history of scientific studies, many of them funded by the dairy industry, showing how whey helps build muscle. But studies have found that when you combine plant protein with strengthening exercises there is little difference in outcome at the end. Until dairy transitions to an organic and regenerative model, pea protein is more sustainable. I shake mine up with Ralph Haslam’s organic Mossfield milk to get the best of both worlds.

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests