Numerous studies have used the dual-tracer method to assess postprandial glucose metabolism. The present experiments were undertaken to determine whether the marked tracer nonsteady state that occurs with the dual-tracer approach after food ingestion introduces error when it is used to simultaneously measure both meal glucose appearance (R(a meal)) and endogenous glucose production (EGP). To do so, a novel triple-tracer approach was designed: 12 subjects ingested a mixed meal containing [1-(13)C]glucose while [6-(3)H]glucose and [6,6-(2)H(2)]glucose were infused intravenously in patterns that minimized the change in the plasma ratios of [6-(3)H]glucose to [1-(13)C]glucose and of [6,6-(2)H(2)]glucose to endogenous glucose, respectively. R(a meal) and EGP measured with this approach were essentially model independent, since non-steady-state error was minimized by the protocol. Initial splanchnic glucose extraction (ISE) was 12.9% +/- 3.4%, and suppression of EGP (EGPS) was 40.3% +/- 4.1%. In contrast, when calculated with the dual-tracer one-compartment model, ISE was higher (P < 0.05) and EGPS was lower (P < 0.005) than observed with the triple-tracer approach. These errors could only be prevented by using time-varying volumes different for R(a meal) and EGP. Analysis of the dual-tracer data with a two-compartment model reduced but did not totally avoid the problems associated with marked postprandial changes in the tracer-to-tracee ratios. We conclude that results from previous studies that have used the dual-tracer one-compartment model to measure postprandial carbohydrate metabolism need to be reevaluated and that the triple-tracer technique may provide a useful approach for doing so.