Dietary protein quality is considered to be dependent on the degree and velocity with which protein is digested, absorbed as amino acids, and retained in the gut as newly synthesized protein. Metabolic animal studies suggest that the quality of soy protein is inferior to that of casein protein, but confirmatory studies in humans are lacking. The study objective was to assess the quality of casein and soy protein by comparing their metabolic effects in healthy human subjects. Whole-body protein kinetics, splanchnic leucine extraction, and urea production rates were measured in the postabsorptive state and during 8-h enteral intakes of isonitrogenous [0.42 g protein/(kg body weight . 8 h)] protein-based test meals, which contained either casein (CAPM; n = 12) or soy protein (SOPM; n = 10) in 2 separate groups. Stable isotope techniques were used to study metabolic effects. With enteral food intake, protein metabolism changed from net protein breakdown to net protein synthesis. Net protein synthesis was greater in the CAPM group than in the SOPM group [52 +/- 14 and 17 +/- 14 nmol/(kg fat-free mass (FFM) . min), respectively; P < 0.02]. Urea synthesis rates decreased during consumption of both enteral meals, but the decrease tended to be greater in the subjects that consumed CAPM (P = 0.07). Absolute splanchnic extraction of leucine was higher in the subjects that consumed CAPM [306 +/- 31 nmol/(kg FFM . min)] vs. those that consumed SOPM [235 +/- 29 nmol/(kg FFM . min); P < 0.01]. In conclusion, a significantly larger portion of soy protein is degraded to urea, whereas casein protein likely contributes to splanchnic utilization (probably protein synthesis) to a greater extent. The biological value of soy protein must be considered inferior to that of casein protein in humans.