Patients with mitochondrial myopathies (MM) or myophosphorylase deficiency (McArdle's disease, McA) show impaired capacity for O(2) extraction, low maximal aerobic power, and reduced exercise tolerance. Non-invasive tools are needed to quantify the metabolic impairment. Six patients with MM, 6 with McA, 25 with symptoms of metabolic myopathy but negative biopsy (patient-controls, P-CTRL) and 20 controls (CTRL) underwent an incremental cycloergometric test. Pulmonary O(2) uptake (VO(2)) and vastus lateralis oxygenation indices (by near-infrared spectroscopy, NIRS) were determined. Concentration changes of deoxygenated hemoglobin and myoglobin (Delta[deoxy(Hb + Mb)]) were considered an index of O(2) extraction. Delta[deoxy(Hb + Mb)] peak (percent limb ischemia) was lower in MM (25.3 +/- 12.0%) and McA (18.7 +/- 7.3) than in P-CTRL (62.4 +/- 3.9) and CTRL (71.3 +/- 3.9) subjects. VO(2) peak and Delta[deoxy(Hb + Mb)] peak were linearly related (r(2) = 0.83). In these patients, NIRS is a tool to detect and quantify non-invasively the metabolic impairment, which may be useful in the follow-up of patients and in the assessment of therapies and interventions.