Breaking down the science behind Progenex
by Anthony Roberts
In looking at the original study on Progenex (Recovery-study.PDF), we find the following facts: 1.) Progenex-taking subjects experienced more soreness than subjects taking a placebo, 2.) subjects taking nothing had fully recovered peak strength before the Progenex group, and 3.)Progenex had no measurable effect on muscle damage.
The original Progenex formula contained a protein supplied by Murry Goulburn Nutritionals (MG Nutritionals), identical to the one currently found in their “Ascend” product, sold in Australia. For the purposes of this article, and simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to this protein as Progenex, even though technically it would be more proper to call it “Whey Protein Isolate Hydrolysate” or “NatraBoost XR” or even WPIHD (as the study calls it). You get the point, though…this is the protein found in the original Progenex recovery product.
At first glance, just by reading the abstract, this looks like a great protein with impressive scientific support. The study worked like this: There were three groups of men, all of whom performed a session of weight training, and consumed either Progenex, a whey protein isolate, or flavored water (placebo). The men who took the Progenex not only recovered their peak isometric torque (strength) within six hours, but they also got stronger too. In other words, they worked out, and within 6 hours, they had gotten stronger, resulting in these claims in the ad-copy for the product:
…while you are training, your muscle cells gradually lose their ability to generate a forcible contraction.Pushed to the limit, your muscles will not be able to forcibly contract at all. PROGENEX Recovery completely resets the process that causes force loss, so that you can perform again with maximum strength and force.Unfortunately, although this product is marketed towards athletes, the researchers chose to use sedentary (inactive) males. This increases the chance that a performance enhancing effect will be found. However, extrapolating data from an inactive population to athletes is problematic. There are tons of nutritional supplements that work for untrained individuals, but do nothing for more advanced trainers (J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jul;23(7):641-50.). The support for this product in athletes is severely lacking, and it’s lacking because the company made a conscious decision to not do this research.
Next, we find that the study began with 43 people. And this is how the results looked at the two hour post-exercise mark, with the largest bar on the left representing the strength of the people who consumed nothing post workout, the second bar representing Progenex, the third being Whey Isolate, and the final one being placebo (flavored water):
Out of those 43 people, 15 had recovered 100% of their strength (failed to register a reduction in Peak Isometric Torque) immediately post-workout, without consuming anything (no Progenex, no placebo, no whey isolate). Those people, who immediately outperformed the rest of the guys in the study, were dropped from the final data analysis. Progenex, once those people were excluded, outperformed everything else (placebo and whey isolate).
Thus, over 1/3rd of the people in the study were dropped from the final results, and we’re left with only 6 people who actually took Progenex (while the other two groups had nearly double that number each). Hence, the data found in this study does not rise to a sufficient level to reach statistical significance.
Here’s the graph MG Nutritionals gives us:
People will (*perhaps) argue that I am picking and choosing what portions of the data I am using. My reply to the contrary is that I am using 100% of the data, and MG Nutritionals is picking and choosing the data they use for their results and claims.
And what kind of workout was used in the study? Test subjects performed 100 maximal effort eccentric right-leg-only extensions (they did 100 negative reps with one leg on the leg extension maching). In other words, they performed a workout that nobody would ever perform, and which has very little bearing on how anybody actually trains. Admittedly, they used this protocol because other scientists have used this protocol – but this is not an argument for effectiveness or relevance, it is the argument of popularity (argumentum ad populum) disguised with a lab coat.
Therefore, the exercise protocol used in this study is completely invalid, and does not support the idea that this product will help an athlete recover (or increase) peak strength after a training session.
And what kinds of subjective results did they get? The people who consumed Progenex ended up feeling more sore than either the placebo group or the whey protein isolate group (here’s the graph we’re given, with the highest line and level of soreness representing the Progenex group):
This is probably the most hilarious part of the study, because people who took Progenex were almost twice as sore after two hours than people drinking flavored water. People like to claim that they “feel recovered” right after using this product, but the study tells us that their subjective level of soreness should actually be much higher than had they not taken it.
Next, the study tells us about objective measures of muscle damage (CK and TNFa), as measured by blood testing. There was no evidence that Progenex had any effect on these parameters, at all. Quoting from the study:
A number of indirect markers of muscle damage and inflammation were assessed in the present study, including muscle soreness, serum CK, and plasma TNF, concentrations, but there was no evidence of any effect of the hydrolysate on these markers.Therefore, in terms of both subjective soreness as well as objective muscle damage, Progenex has been found inferior to placebo.
Next, if we look over their reference (listed on page 4, cited on page 1, second paragraph) to support the claim “protein hydrolysates can accelerate the repair of damaged tissue,” we find that the study they’re referencing has nothign to do with athletes or exercise…it’s actually a study about healing ulcers.
Finally, at the end, we find MG Nutritionals paid for this study to be conducted. We also find that one of the authors (MK Rowney) was in the direct employment of that company, and another (Jonathan D. Buckley) has written (and been paid for) numerous studies and papers funded by MGN.
The study at hand can be regarded thusly: the population examined was invalid for athletic purposes, the exercise protocol was unrealistic to the point of irrelevance, and the exclusion criteria made statistical significance impossible . Furthermore, consumption of this protein resulted in more soreness as compared to placebo, and no improvement in objective markers of muscle damage. This company has no foundation to claim that their product will do anything (above regular whey protein) for an athlete or anything to ameliorate training-induced damage and/or soreness.