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Control of Muscle Protein Breakdown: Effects of Activity and Nutritional States

Robert R. Wolfe

We propose that there is a link between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown that is regulated, in part, through maintenance of the free intracellular pool of essential amino acids. For example, we propose that muscle protein breakdown is paradoxically elevated in the anabolic state following resistance exercise in part because the even greater stimulation of synthesis would otherwise deplete this pool. Thus, factors regulating muscle protein breakdown must be evaluated in the context of the prevailing rate of muscle protein synthesis. Further, the direct effect of factors on breakdown may depend on the physiological state. For example, local hyperinsulinemia suppresses accelerated muscle protein breakdown after exercise, but not normal resting breakdown. Thus, factors regulating muscle protein breakdown in human subjects are complex and interactive.

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Exercise, Protein Metabolism, and Muscle Growth

Kevin D. Tipton and Robert R. Wolfe

Exercise has a profound effect on muscle growth, which can occur only if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown; there must be a positive muscle protein balance. Resistance exercise improves muscle protein balance, but, in the absence of food intake, the balance remains negative (i.e., catabolic). The response of muscle protein metabolism to a resistance exercise bout lasts for 24-48 hours; thus, the interaction between protein metabolism and any meals consumed in this period will determine the impact of the diet on muscle hypertrophy. Amino acid availability is an important regulator of muscle protein metabolism. The interaction of postexercise metabolic processes and increased amino acid availability maximizes the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis and results in even greater muscle anabolism than when dietary amino acids are not present. Hormones, especially insulin and testosterone, have important roles as regulators of muscle protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy. Following exercise, insulin has only a permissive role on muscle protein synthesis, but it appears to inhibit the increase in muscle protein breakdown. Ingestion of only small amounts of amino acids, combined with carbohydrates, can transiently increase muscle protein anabolism, but it has yet to be determined if these transient responses translate into an appreciable increase in muscle mass over a prolonged training period.

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Effect of an Amino Acid, Protein, and Carbohydrate Mixture on Net Muscle Protein Balance after Resistance Exercise

Elisabet Børsheim, Asle Aarsland, and Robert R. Wolfe

This study tests the hypotheses that (a) a mixture of whey protein, amino acids (AA), and carbohydrates (CHO) stimulates net muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than isoenergetic CHO alone after resistance exercise; and (b) that the stimulatory effect of a protein, AA, and CHO mixture will last beyond the 1 st hour after intake. Eight subjects participated in 2 trials. In one (PAAC), they ingested 77.4 g CHO, 17.5 g whey protein, and 4.9 g AA 1 hr after resistance exercise. In the other (CON), 100 g CHO was ingested instead. They received a primed constant infusion of L-[2H5]-phenylalanine, and samples from femoral artery and vein, and biopsies from vastus lateralis were obtained. The area under the curve for net uptake of phenylalanine into muscle above pre-drink value was 128 ±42 mg • leg-1 (PAAC) versus 32 ± 10 mg - leg-1 (CON) for the 3 hr after the drink (p = .04). The net protein balance response to the mixture consisted of two components, one rapid immediate response, and a smaller delayed response about 90 min after drink, whereas in CON only a small delayed response was seen. We conclude that after resistance exercise, a mixture of whey protein, AA, and CHO stimulated muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than isoenergetic CHO alone. Further, compared to previously reported findings, the addition of protein to an AA + CHO mixture seems to extend the anabolic effect.