The purpose of this study was to investigate the hypothesis that a single, extended session of heavy exercise would be effective in inducing adaptations in energy metabolism during exercise in the absence of increases in oxidative potential. Ten healthy males [maximal aerobic power (VO(2 peak)) = 43.4 +/- 2.2 (SE) ml x kg(-1) x min(-1)] participated in a 16-h training session involving cycling for 6 min each hour at approximately 90% of maximal oxygen consumption. Measurements of metabolic changes were made on tissue extracted from the vastus lateralis during a two-stage standardized submaximal cycle protocol before (Pre) and 36-48 h after (Post) the training session. At Pre, creatine phosphate (PCr) declined (P < 0.05) by 32% from 0 to 3 min and then remained stable until 20 min of exercise at 60% VO(2 peak) before declining (P < 0.05) by a further 35% during 20 min of exercise at 75% VO(2 peak). Muscle lactate (mmol/kg dry wt) progressively increased (P < 0.05) from 4.59 +/- 0.64 at 0 min to 17.8 +/- 2.7 and 30.9 +/- 5.3 at 3 and 40 min, respectively, whereas muscle glycogen (mmol glucosyl units/kg dry wt) declined (P < 0.05) from a rest value of 360 +/- 24 to 276 +/- 31 and 178 +/- 36 at similar time points. During exercise after the training session, PCr and glycogen were not as depressed (P < 0.05), and increases in muscle lactate were blunted (P < 0.05). All of these changes occurred in the absence of increases in oxidative potential as measured by the maximal activities of citrate synthase and malate dehydrogenase. These findings are consistent with other studies, namely, that muscle metabolic adaptations to regular exercise are an early adaptive event that occurs before increases in oxidative potential.