Whole-body and muscle protein metabolism are not affected by acute deviations from habitual protein intake in older men: the Hormonal Regulators of Muscle and Metabolism in Aging (HORMA) Study

Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jul;94(1):172-81. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.010959. Epub 2011 May 4.


Background: Acute deviations in protein intake before the quantification of protein kinetics in older humans may explain the controversy over the effects of older age on muscle protein synthesis and proteolysis rates.

Objective: We hypothesized that an acute decrease in protein intake from the habitual intake is associated with lower muscle protein synthesis and higher proteolysis rates, whereas an acute increase in protein intake from the habitual intake is associated with higher muscle protein synthesis and lower proteolysis rates.

Design: In 112 community-dwelling healthy men aged 65-90 y, we quantified resting whole-body [1,2-(13)C(2)]leucine kinetics, muscle mixed protein fractional synthesis rates (FSRs), and muscle proteasome proteolytic enzyme activities after participants consumed for 3 d controlled research meals (0.9-1.1 g protein · kg(-1) · d(-1)) that contained more or less protein than that habitually consumed and that induced alterations in nitrogen balance.

Results: Protein kinetic parameters were not significantly different between the groups, despite controlled research protein intakes that were lower (-0.2 to -0.3 g · kg(-1) · d(-1)) or higher (+0.2 g · kg(-1) · d(-1)) than habitual intakes and that induced negative (-22 to -25 mg · kg(-1) · d(-1)) or positive (22-25 mg · kg(-1) · d(-1)) nitrogen balance. Within these acutely altered protein intake and nitrogen balance boundaries, a reduction in protein intake from habitual intake and induction of negative nitrogen balance were not associated with higher proteolysis or lower muscle FSR, and an acute increase in protein intake from habitual intake and induction of positive nitrogen balance were not associated with lower proteolysis or higher muscle FSR. A higher quantitative insulin sensitivity check index was associated with lower whole-body proteolysis rates.

Conclusions: The practice of acutely controlling protein intake, even at intakes lower than habitual intakes that induce negative nitrogen balance, before quantifying human protein kinetics does not significantly reduce muscle protein synthesis or increase proteolysis. Factors other than protein intake explain lower muscle protein synthesis rates with advanced age. This trial is registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT00183040.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Catalysis
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Leucine / metabolism
  • Male
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Leucine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00183040