Feeding stimulates robust increases in muscle protein synthesis (MPS); however, ageing may alter the anabolic response to protein ingestion and the subsequent aminoacidaemia. With this as background, we aimed to determine in the present study the dose–response of MPS with the ingestion of isolated whey protein, with and without prior resistance exercise, in the elderly. For the purpose of this study, thirty-seven elderly men (age 71 (sd 4) years) completed a bout of unilateral leg-based resistance exercise before ingesting 0, 10, 20 or 40 g of whey protein isolate (W0–W40, respectively). Infusion of l-[1-13C]leucine and l-[ring-13C6]phenylalanine with bilateral vastus lateralis muscle biopsies were used to ascertain whole-body leucine oxidation and 4 h post-protein consumption of MPS in the fed-state of non-exercised and exercised leg muscles. It was determined that whole-body leucine oxidation increased in a stepwise, dose-dependent manner. MPS increased above basal, fasting values by approximately 65 and 90 % for W20 and W40, respectively (P < 0·05), but not with lower doses of whey. While resistance exercise was generally effective at stimulating MPS, W20 and W40 ingestion post-exercise increased MPS above W0 and W10 exercised values (P < 0·05) and W40 was greater than W20 (P < 0·05). Based on the study, the following conclusions were drawn. At rest, the optimal whey protein dose for non-frail older adults to consume, to increase myofibrillar MPS above fasting rates, was 20 g. Resistance exercise increases MPS in the elderly at all protein doses, but to a greater extent with 40 g of whey ingestion. These data suggest that, in contrast to younger adults, in whom post-exercise rates of MPS are saturated with 20 g of protein, exercised muscles of older adults respond to higher protein doses.