Influence of the protein digestion rate on protein turnover in young and elderly subjects

J Nutr. 2002 Oct;132(10):3228S-33S. doi: 10.1093/jn/131.10.3228S.


It has long been recognized that numerous dietary parameters, such as the amount and type of protein and nonprotein energy sources, affect protein metabolism. More recently, we demonstrated that the protein digestion rate is an independent factor regulating postprandial protein gain. Indeed, in young men, using a non-steady-state approach and intrinsically labeled milk protein fractions [whey protein (WP) and casein (CAS)] we showed that a slow digested dietary protein (CAS) induced a greater protein gain than a fast one (WP). The mechanisms of this gain also differed according to the protein rate of digestion. WP stimulated amino acid oxidation and protein synthesis without modifying proteolysis, whereas CAS increased amino acid oxidation and protein synthesis to a lesser extent and strongly inhibited proteolysis. These results led to the concept of "slow" and "fast" protein and were confirmed by further experiments during which the meals tested presented different digestion rates but were otherwise identical in terms of amino acid profile. We also analyzed the effects of fat and carbohydrates added to CAS and WP. Our preliminary results suggest that added nonprotein energy sources to CAS and WP attenuated the differences in both the protein digestion rate and protein gain. Finally, and in contrast to young subjects, a "fast" protein may be more beneficial than a "slow" one in elderly subjects, to limit body protein loss. However, long-term studies are needed to confirm this age-related effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology
  • Dietary Proteins / pharmacokinetics*
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Milk Proteins / pharmacokinetics
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Postprandial Period
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Milk Proteins
  • Proteins