BACKGROUND: The rate of protein digestion and amino acid absorption determines the postprandial rise in circulating amino acids and modulates postprandial muscle protein synthesis rates.
OBJECTIVE: We sought to compare protein digestion, amino acid absorption kinetics, and the postprandial muscle protein synthetic response following ingestion of intact milk protein or an equivalent amount of free amino acids.
METHODS: Twenty-four healthy, young participants (mean ± SD age: 22 ± 3 y and BMI 23 ± 2 kg/m2; sex: 12 male and 12 female participants) received a primed continuous infusion of l-[ring-2H5]-phenylalanine and l-[ring-3,5-2H2]-tyrosine, after which they ingested either 30 g intrinsically l-[1-13C]-phenylalanine-labeled milk protein or an equivalent amount of free amino acids labeled with l-[1-13C]-phenylalanine. Blood samples and muscle biopsies were obtained to assess protein digestion and amino acid absorption kinetics (secondary outcome), whole-body protein net balance (secondary outcome), and mixed muscle protein synthesis rates (primary outcome) throughout the 6-h postprandial period.
RESULTS: Postprandial plasma amino acid concentrations increased after ingestion of intact milk protein and free amino acids (both P < 0.001), with a greater increase following ingestion of the free amino acids than following ingestion of intact milk protein (P-time × treatment < 0.001). Exogenous phenylalanine release into plasma, assessed over the 6-h postprandial period, was greater with free amino acid ingestion (76 ± 9%) than with milk protein treatment (59 ± 10%; P < 0.001). Ingestion of free amino acids and intact milk protein increased mixed muscle protein synthesis rates (P-time < 0.001), with no differences between treatments (from 0.037 ± 0.015%/h to 0.053 ± 0.014%/h and 0.039 ± 0.016%/h to 0.051 ± 0.010%/h, respectively; P-time × treatment = 0.629).
CONCLUSIONS: Ingestion of a bolus of free amino acids leads to more rapid amino acid absorption and greater postprandial plasma amino acid availability than ingestion of an equivalent amount of intact milk protein. Ingestion of free amino acids may be preferred over ingestion of intact protein in conditions where protein digestion and amino acid absorption are compromised.
Bibliographical note© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Nutrition.
- Amino Acids/metabolism
- Dietary Proteins
- Muscle Proteins/metabolism
- Muscle, Skeletal/metabolism
- Postprandial Period
- Young Adult