Patients with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) suffer from impaired muscle function due to insufficient oxygen supply during exercise, mitochondrial damages, unfavourable muscle fibre type distribution and impaired exercise tolerance. These factors influence the symptoms as well as the quality of life in PAD patients and are closely connected to failures of high-energy phosphate metabolism. At onset of muscle exercise, the mitochondrial capacity cannot match the increased demand. The oxygen supply via blood flow must be increased. Meanwhile, anaerobic glycolysis and internal stores of oxygen like mixed venous blood and myoglobin as well as internal stores of high-energy phosphates like phosphocreatine (PCr) are adducted for the provision of additional adenosine-triphosphate (ATP), which is consumed by the ATPase at the myofibrils in order to fuel muscle contraction. Since the ATP production is insufficient, this phase (anaerobic phase) is characterized by a progressive decrease in PCr, which can be accurately measured by phosphorus 31 magnetic resonance spectroscopy (31p MRS). If the oxygen supply is improved, the mitochondrial capacity can match the increased metabolic demand. This phase is the aerobic phase, which is indicated by a steady-state of PCr hydrolysis. In PAD patients or experimental models of peripheral ischemia, the anaerobic phase is prolonged or does not pass into the aerobic phase resulting in exercise abortion. This review summarizes the results of 31p MRS studies investigating the high-energy phosphate metabolism during ischemic exercise in healthy humans and during ramp or incremental exercise in PAD patients.