After exercise, there is an increase in O2 consumption termed the excess postexercise O2 consumption (EPOC). In this study, we have examined the effect of exercise intensity on the time course and magnitude of EPOC. Six healthy male subjects exercised on separate days for 80 minutes at 29%, 50%, and 75% of maximal O2 uptake (VO2max) on a cycle ergometer. O2 uptake, R value, and rectal temperature were measured while the subjects rested in bed for 14 hours postexercise, and the results were compared with those of an identical control experiment without exercise. An increase in O2 uptake lasting for 0.3 +/- 0.1 hour (29% exercise), 3.3 +/- 0.7 hour (50%) and 10.5 +/- 1.6 hour (75%) was observed. EPOC was 1.3 +/- 0.46 I(29%), 5.7 +/- 1.7 I (50%), and 30.1 +/- 6.4 I (75%). There was an exponential relationship between exercise intensity and total EPOC, both during the first 2 hours and the next 5 hours of recovery. Hence, prolonged exercise at intensities above 40% to 50% of VO2max is required in order to trigger the metabolic processes that are responsible for the prolonged EPOC component extending beyond 2 hours postexercise.