Because intravenous infusion of beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta-OHB) has been reported to decrease urinary nitrogen excretion, we investigated in vivo metabolism of leucine, an essential amino acid, using L-[1-13C]leucine as a tracer during beta-OHB infusion. Leucine flux during beta-OHB infusion did not differ from leucine flux during normal saline infusion in nine normal subjects, whereas leucine oxidation decreased 18-41% (mean = 30%) from 18.1 +/- 1.1 mumol.kg-1.h-1 (P less than 0.01), and incorporation of leucine into skeletal muscle protein increased 5-17% (mean = 10%) from 0.048 + 0.003%/h (P less than 0.02). Since blood pH during beta-OHB infusion was higher than the pH during saline infusion, we performed separate experiments to study the effect of increased blood pH on leucine kinetics by infusing sodium bicarbonate intravenously. Blood pH during sodium bicarbonate infusion was similar to that observed during the beta-OHB infusion, but bicarbonate infusion had no effect on leucine flux or leucine oxidation. We conclude that beta-OHB decreases leucine oxidation and promotes protein synthesis in human beings.