Strenuous, long-duration aerobic exercise results in endotoxemia due to increased plasma levels of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) leading to cytokine release, oxidative stress, and altered gastrointestinal function. However, the effect of short-term strenuous aerobic exercise either with or without antioxidant supplementation on exercise-induced endotoxemia is unknown. A significant increase in the concentration of bacterial LPS (endotoxin) was noted in the venous circulation of healthy volunteers following maximal acute aerobic exercise (0.14(-1) pre-exercise vs. 0.24(-1) postexercise, p <0.01). Plasma nitrite concentration also increased with exercise (0.09 +/- 0.05 nM x ml(-1) vs. 0.14 +/- 0.01 nM x ml(-1), p <0.05) as did ascorbate free radical levels (0.02 +/- 0.001 vs. 0.03 +/- 0.002 arbitrary units, p <0.05). Oral ascorbic acid supplementation (1000 mg) significantly increased plasma ascorbic acid concentration (29.45 mM x l(-1) to 121.22 mM x l(-1), p <0.05), and was associated with a decrease in plasma LPS and nitrite concentration before and after exercise (LPS: 0.01(-1); nitrite: 0.02 +/- 0.02 nM x ml(-1) vs. 0.02 +/- 0.03 nM x ml(-1)). Ascorbic acid supplementation led to a significant increase in ascorbate free radical levels both before (0.04 +/- 0.01 arbitrary units) and after exercise (0.06 +/- 0.02 arbitrary units, p <0.05). In conclusion, strenuous short-term aerobic exercise results in significant increases in plasma LPS levels (endotoxemia) together with increases in markers of oxidative stress. Supplementation with ascorbic acid, however, abolished the increase in LPS and nitrite but led to a significant increase in the ascorbate radical in plasma. The amelioration of exercise-induced endotoxemia by antioxidant pretreatment implies that it is a free radical-mediated process while the use of the ascorbate radical as a marker of oxidative stress in supplemented systems is limited.