A study was undertaken of patients on a regimen of total parenteral nutrition comparing the nitrogen balance, energy substrates, blood amino acids, iramunoreactive insulin, and immunoreactive glucagon levels during the sequential infusion of nonprotein calories as either glucose alone (glucose system) or 83% as Intralipid (Pharmacia Fine Chemicals, Montreal, Canada) and 17% glucose (lipid system). These nonprotein calories were administered with a constant background of amino acids (1 g/kg per day), vitamins, and minerals. Each system was infused for a week at a time and the order of infusion randomized. In some patients whole blood arteriovenous (A-V) levels of amino acids were measured across forearm muscle. During the glucose system there was a significantly higher level of pyruvate, lactate, alanine, and immunoreactive insulin, consistent with glucose being the principal source of energy. In contrast, during the lipid system there was a rise in free fatty acids and ketone bodies with a fall in insulin, suggesting that lipid was now the principal source of energy. Despite these two very diverse metabolic situations the nitrogen balance with both systems was positive to a comparable degree after the establishment of equilibrium. Correspondingly, A-V differences of whole blood amino acid nitrogen showed uptake by muscle to an equivalent degree with both systems. Clinical studies indicated that the lipid system as defined herein could be infused by peripheral vein for up to 43 days with resultant weight gain, elevation of serum proteins, and healing of fistulae. Our studies suggest that for both metabolic and clinical reasons exogenously infused lipid is a suitable source of nonprotein calories.