In accordance with Stewart's physicochemical approach, the three independent determinants of plasma hydrogen ion concentration ([H(+)]) were measured at rest and during exercise in the follicular (FP) and luteal phase (LP) of the human menstrual cycle. Healthy, physically active women with similar physical characteristics were tested during either the FP (n = 14) or LP (n = 14). Arterialized blood samples were obtained at rest and after 5 min of upright cycling at both 70 and 110% of the ventilatory threshold (T(Vent)). Measurements included plasma [H(+)], arterial carbon dioxide tension (Pa(CO(2))), total weak acid ([A(Tot)]) as reflected by total protein, and the strong-ion difference ([SID]). The transition from rest to exercise in both groups resulted in a significant increase in [H(+)] at 70% T(Vent) versus rest and at 110% T(Vent) versus both rest and 70% T(Vent). No significant between-group differences were observed for [H(+)] at rest or in response to exercise. At rest in the LP, [A(Tot)] and Pa(CO(2)) were significantly lower (acts to decrease [H(+)]) compared with the FP. This effect was offset by a reduction in [SID] (acts to increase [H(+)]). After the transition from rest to exercise, significantly lower [A(Tot)] during the LP was again observed. Although the [SID] and Pa(CO(2)) were not significantly different between groups, trends for changes in these two variables were similar to changes in the resting state. In conclusion, mechanisms regulating [H(+)] exhibit phase-related differences to ensure [H(+)] is relatively constant regardless of progesterone-mediated ventilatory changes during the LP.