Enhancement of depressed plasma concentrations of glutamine and arginine is associated with better clinical outcome. Supplementation of glutamine might be a way to provide the patient with glutamine, and also arginine, because glutamine provides the kidney with citrulline, from which the kidney produces arginine when plasma levels of arginine are low. The aim of the present study was to investigate the parenteral and enteral response of the administered dipeptide Ala-Gln, glutamine, citrulline and arginine. Therefore, seven patients received 20 g Ala-Gln, administered over 4 h, parenterally or enterally, on two separate occasions. Arterial blood samples were taken before and during the administration of Ala-Gln. ANOVA and a paired t test were used to test differences (P<0·05). Ala-Gln was undetectable with enteral administration, whereas Ala-Gln remained stable at a plasma concentration of 268 μmol/l throughout parenteral infusion and rapidly decreased towards zero after infusion was stopped. The highest level of glutamine was observed with parenteral infusion of the dipeptide, although enteral infusion also significantly increased plasma levels of glutamine. The highest plasma response of citrulline was observed with the enteral administration of the dipeptide, although parenteral administration also increased plasma levels of citrulline. Plasma arginine increased significantly with parenteral infusion, but not with enteral administration of Ala-Gln. In conclusion, administrations of Ala-Gln, parenteral or enteral, resulted in an increased plasma glutamine response, as compared with baseline. Interestingly, in spite of the high availability of citrulline with enteral administration of the dipeptide, only parenteral infusion of Ala-Gln increased plasma arginine concentration.