Plasma total homocysteine (tHcy) has been identified as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (CVD). The difference in tHcy between the sexes has most often been related to the sex hormones, but also to a higher muscle mass in men. The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of acute exercise, brief exhaustive training, and menstrual cycle phase on circulating plasma tHcy concentrations. Fifteen untrained eumenorrheic women (mean age [+/-SD]: 18.7+/-0.4 yr, body fat: 25.8+/-3.4%, VO2max: 43.8+/-2.3 ml x kg(-1) x min(-1)) volunteered for the present study, which covered two menstrual cycles. During the second cycle the subjects participated in two exhaustive 5-day training programs on a cycle ergometer: one in the follicular (FPh) and one in the luteal phase (LPh). Pre- and posttraining plasma tHcy and total estrogen (E) responses were determined in blood samples obtained immediately before, during and immediately after incremental exercise to exhaustion. tHcy levels showed a large between-subject variation, but differences between FPh and LPh levels were consistent (P=0.063). Mean tHcy levels at rest were 9.44+/-1.65 micromol/L and 8.93+/-1.71 micromol/L during the FPh and LPh, respectively. Brief exhaustive training did not elicit any changes in plasma tHcy concentrations, although posttraining LPh E levels were lower (P<0.01). Overall, the differences between FPh and LPh values for tHcy and E were attenuated by training. Acute exercise increased plasma tHcy concentrations (P<0.001). At exhaustion, tHcy levels increased by 17% and 16% during the FPh and LPh, respectively. This was also significantly above tHcy levels at submaximal exercise (P=0.044). After a short period of training tHcy levels did not increase as much during acute exercise as they did before training; however, the increments were still significant (P=0.048). In conclusion, acute exercise in women produces significant increases in plasma tHcy concentrations, whereas brief exhaustive training does not significantly alter plasma tHcy levels. Our findings also suggest that plasma tHcy concentrations are menstrual cycle phase-dependent and that there is a close association between estrogen status and tHcy levels.