Plasma concentrations of amino acids are frequently elevated in insulin-resistant states, and a protein-enriched diet can impair glucose metabolism. This study examined effects of short-term plasma amino acid (AA) elevation on whole-body glucose disposal and cellular insulin action in skeletal muscle. Seven healthy men were studied for 5.5 h during euglycemic (5.5 mmol/l), hyperinsulinemic (430 pmol/l), fasting glucagon (65 ng/l), and growth hormone (0.4 microg/l) somatostatin clamp tests in the presence of low (approximately 1.6 mmol/l) and increased (approximately 4.6 mmol/l) plasma AA concentrations. Glucose turnover was measured with D-[6,6-(2)H(2)]glucose. Intramuscular concentrations of glycogen and glucose-6-phosphate (G6P) were monitored using (13)C and (31)P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, respectively. A approximately 2.1-fold elevation of plasma AAs reduced whole-body glucose disposal by 25% (P < 0.01). Rates of muscle glycogen synthesis decreased by 64% (180--315 min, 24 plus minus 3; control, 67 plus minus 10 micromol center dot l(-1) center dot min(-1); P < 0.01), which was accompanied by a reduction in G6P starting at 130 min (DeltaG6P(260--300 min), 18 plus minus 19; control, 103 plus minus 33 micromol/l; P < 0.05). In conclusion, plasma amino acid elevation induces skeletal muscle insulin resistance in humans by inhibition of glucose transport/phosphorylation, resulting in marked reduction of glycogen synthesis.