Ten adult ambulatory patients with the nonactive digestive disease short bowel syndrome were prospectively studied to quantitatively assess their free oral intake and their net digestive absorption of total calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrate during a 3-day period at least 6 months after a resection. The remaining portions of small bowel had a mean length of 75 cm (range, 0-200 cm); the remaining colon lengths had a mean of 67% of normal (range, 0%-100%). The experimental diets were formulated according to a home dietary inquiry. During the study period, pooled intakes and digestive losses were measured for total calories, fat, and protein using the bomb calorimetry, Van de Kamer, and Kjeldahl techniques, respectively. The ingested diet provided 58 +/- 14 kcal.kg-1.day-1 (mean +/- SD) and consisted of 46% carbohydrate, 31% fat, and 23% protein. Net digestive absorption was 67% +/- 12% for total calories, 79% +/- 15% for carbohydrate, 52% +/- 16% for fat, and 61% +/- 19% for protein. The larger net digestive absorption of carbohydrate (P less than or equal to 0.004) compared with fat and protein suggests salvage of colonic cholesterol in short bowel syndrome patients. It is concluded that these patients with the short bowel syndrome adapted to a hypercaloric, hyperprotein diet to compensate for increased fecal losses and that this hyperphagia does not seem to have impaired their net digestive absorption.