We examined the response of net muscle protein synthesis to ingestion of amino acids after a bout of resistance exercise. A primed, constant infusion of L-[ring-2H5]phenylalanine was used to measure net muscle protein balance in three male and three female volunteers on three occasions. Subjects consumed in random order 1 liter of 1) a mixed amino acid (40 g) solution (MAA), 2) an essential amino acid (40 g) solution (EAA), and 3) a placebo solution (PLA). Arterial amino acid concentrations increased approximately 150-640% above baseline during ingestion of MAA and EAA. Net muscle protein balance was significantly increased from negative during PLA ingestion (-50 +/- 23 nmol. min-1. 100 ml leg volume-1) to positive during MAA ingestion (17 +/- 13 nmol. min-1. 100 ml leg volume-1) and EAA (29 +/- 14 nmol. min-1. 100 ml leg volume-1; P < 0.05). Because net balance was similar for MAA and EAA, it does not appear necessary to include nonessential amino acids in a formulation designed to elicit an anabolic response from muscle after exercise. We concluded that ingestion of oral essential amino acids results in a change from net muscle protein degradation to net muscle protein synthesis after heavy resistance exercise in humans similar to that seen when the amino acids were infused.