Muscle metabolism was investigated in seven men during two 35 min cycling trials at 60% peak oxygen uptake, at 35 degrees C and 50% relative humidity. On one occasion, exercise was preceded by whole-body cooling achieved by immersion in water during a reduction in temperature from 29 to 24 degrees C, and, for the other trial, by immersion in water at a thermoneutral temperature (control, 34.8 degrees C). Pre-cooling did not alter oxygen uptake during exercise (P > 0.05), whilst the change in cardiac frequency and body mass both tended to be lower following pre-cooling (0.05 < P < 0.10). When averaged over the exercise period, muscle and oesophageal temperatures after pre-cooling were reduced by 1.5 and 0.6 degrees C respectively, compared with control (P < 0.05). Pre-cooling had a limited effect on muscle metabolism, with no differences between the two conditions in muscle glycogen, triglyceride, adenosine triphosphate, creatine phosphate, creatine or lactate contents at rest, or following exercise. These data indicate that whole-body pre-cooling does not alter muscle metabolism during submaximal exercise in the heat. It is more likely that thermoregulatory and cardiovascular strain are reduced, through lower muscle and core temperatures.