Human Protein and Amino Acid Requirements

JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2016 May;40(4):460-74. doi: 10.1177/0148607115624084. Epub 2016 Jan 21.


Human protein and amino acid nutrition encompasses a wide, complex, frequently misunderstood, and often contentious area of clinical research and practice. This tutorial explains the basic biochemical and physiologic principles that underlie our current understanding of protein and amino acid nutrition. The following topics are discussed: (1) the identity, measurement, and essentiality of nutritional proteins; (2) the definition and determination of minimum requirements; (3) nutrition adaptation; (4) obligatory nitrogen excretion and the minimum protein requirement; (5) minimum versus optimum protein intakes; (6) metabolic responses to surfeit and deficient protein intakes; (7) body composition and protein requirements; (8) labile protein; (9) N balance; (10) the principles of protein and amino acid turnover, including an analysis of the controversial indicator amino acid oxidation technique; (11) general guidelines for evaluating protein turnover articles; (12) amino acid turnover versus clearance; (13) the protein content of hydrated amino acid solutions; (14) protein requirements in special situations, including protein-catabolic critical illness; (15) amino acid supplements and additives, including monosodium glutamate and glutamine; and (16) a perspective on the future of protein and amino acid nutrition research. In addition to providing practical information, this tutorial aims to demonstrate the importance of rigorous physiologic reasoning, stimulate intellectual curiosity, and encourage fresh ideas in this dynamic area of human nutrition. In general, references are provided only for topics that are not well covered in modern textbooks.

Keywords: amino acids; dietary proteins; nutrition physiologic phenomena; nutrition requirements; nutrition support; protein; protein requirement.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids* / administration & dosage
  • Amino Acids* / metabolism
  • Body Composition
  • Diet
  • Dietary Proteins* / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins* / metabolism
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Glutamine
  • Humans
  • Metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology
  • Nutritional Requirements* / physiology
  • Nutritional Status
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Amino Acids
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Glutamine
  • Nitrogen