The speed of absorption of dietary amino acids by the gut varies according to the type of ingested dietary protein. This could affect postprandial protein synthesis, breakdown, and deposition. To test this hypothesis, two intrinsically 13C-leucine-labeled milk proteins, casein (CAS) and whey protein (WP), of different physicochemical properties were ingested as one single meal by healthy adults. Postprandial whole body leucine kinetics were assessed by using a dual tracer methodology. WP induced a dramatic but short increase of plasma amino acids. CAS induced a prolonged plateau of moderate hyperaminoacidemia, probably because of a slow gastric emptying. Whole body protein breakdown was inhibited by 34% after CAS ingestion but not after WP ingestion. Postprandial protein synthesis was stimulated by 68% with the WP meal and to a lesser extent (+31%) with the CAS meal. Postprandial whole body leucine oxidation over 7 h was lower with CAS (272 +/- 91 micromol.kg-1) than with WP (373 +/- 56 micromol.kg-1). Leucine intake was identical in both meals (380 micromol.kg-1). Therefore, net leucine balance over the 7 h after the meal was more positive with CAS than with WP (P < 0.05, WP vs. CAS). In conclusion, the speed of protein digestion and amino acid absorption from the gut has a major effect on whole body protein anabolism after one single meal. By analogy with carbohydrate metabolism, slow and fast proteins modulate the postprandial metabolic response, a concept to be applied to wasting situations.