The effect of salbutamol on performance was studied in seven male nonasthmatic highly trained (VO2max > or = 60 ml.kg-1 x min-1) cyclists. Salbutamol (S = 2 puffs = 200 micrograms) or placebo (P) was administered by metered-dose inhaler, through a spacer device, 20 min prior to testing in a double-blind, randomized cross-over design. Testing sessions on a cycle ergometer included the measurement of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), peak power, maximal heart rate, and pulmonary function. A timed sprint to exhaustion was performed after 45 min of exercise at 70% of VO2max, and a Wingate anaerobic test was used to measure total work and peak power. There was a nonsignificant decrease in VO2max (P = 63.5 +/- 3.2; S = 62.6 +/- 3.3 ml.kg-1 x min-1). No difference was found in peak power, maximum heart rate, endurance sprint time, Wingate peak power, or total work. After an anticipated baseline increase was taken into account, the pattern of change in FEV1 over time did not differ between salbutamol and placebo. It was concluded that a therapeutic dose of aerosol salbutamol does not have an ergogenic effect in elite nonasthmatic athletes, and it is therefore recommended that inhaled salbutamol continue to be permitted in international competition for individuals with exercise induced bronchospasm.