Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults

Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Aug;78(2):250-8. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.2.250.


Background: Nutritional supplementation may be used to treat muscle loss with aging (sarcopenia). However, if physical activity does not increase, the elderly tend to compensate for the increased energy delivered by the supplements with reduced food intake, which results in a calorie substitution rather than supplementation. Thus, an effective supplement should stimulate muscle anabolism more efficiently than food or common protein supplements. We have shown that balanced amino acids stimulate muscle protein anabolism in the elderly, but it is unknown whether all amino acids are necessary to achieve this effect.

Objective: We assessed whether nonessential amino acids are required in a nutritional supplement to stimulate muscle protein anabolism in the elderly.

Design: We compared the response of muscle protein metabolism to either 18 g essential amino acids (EAA group: n = 6, age 69 +/- 2 y; +/- SD) or 40 g balanced amino acids (18 g essential amino acids + 22 g nonessential amino acids, BAA group; n = 8, age 71 +/- 2 y) given orally in small boluses every 10 min for 3 h to healthy elderly volunteers. Muscle protein metabolism was measured in the basal state and during amino acid administration via L-[ring-(2)H(5)]phenylalanine infusion, femoral arterial and venous catheterization, and muscle biopsies.

Results: Phenylalanine net balance (in nmol x min(-1). 100 mL leg volume(-1)) increased from the basal state (P < 0.01), with no differences between groups (BAA: from -16 +/- 5 to 16 +/- 4; EAA: from -18 +/- 5 to 14 +/- 13) because of an increase (P < 0.01) in muscle protein synthesis and no change in breakdown.

Conclusion: Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid-induced stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in the elderly.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Amino Acids, Essential / administration & dosage
  • Amino Acids, Essential / metabolism*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscles / metabolism*
  • Phenylalanine / metabolism


  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Insulin
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Phenylalanine