The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of single bouts of exercise at three different intensities on the redox state of human serum albumin (HSA) and on carbonyl groups on protein (CP) concentrations in plasma. Trained men [n = 44, maximal oxygen consumption (Vo(2max)): 55 +/- 5 ml.kg(-1).min(-1), nonsmokers, 34 +/- 5 years of age] from a homogenous population, volunteers from a police special forces unit, were randomly assigned to perform on a cycle ergometer either at 70% (n = 14), 75% (n = 14), or 80% (n = 16) of Vo(2max) for 40 min. Blood was collected before exercise, immediately after the exercise test (IE), and 30 min after each test (30M) and 30 h after each test (30H). The reduced fraction of HSA, human mercaptalbumin (HMA), decreased at all three exercise intensities IE and 30M, returning to preexercise values by 30H (P < 0.05). HMA was primarily oxidized to its reversible fraction human nonmercaptalbumin 1 (HNA1). CP concentrations increased at 75% of Vo(2max) IE and 30M with a tendency (P < 0.1) and at 80% Vo(2max) IE and 30M significantly, returning to preexercise concentrations by 30H (P < 0.01). These results indicate that the HSA redox system in plasma is activated after a single bout of cycle ergometer exercise at 70% Vo(2max) and 40 min duration. The extent of the HSA modification increased with exercise intensity. Oxidative protein damage, as indicated by CP, was only significantly increased at 80% Vo(2max) intensity in this homogenous cohort of trained men.