The present study was conducted to extend the understanding of the combined physiological effects of different food rations in combination with sublethal levels of copper in common carp (Cyprinus carpio). Fish acclimated to low (0.5% body weight) and high (5% body weight) food rations were exposed to 1 microM copper for a period of 28 days and kept for a further 14 days in copper free water to examine their recovery. Measurements of oxygen consumption, ammonia excretion and ammonia accumulation in plasma and muscle were done at various time intervals during the experimental period. Overall, oxygen consumption and ammonia excretion rates were significantly affected by food ration in both copper free and copper exposed fish. Additional challenges, such as copper exposure and/or exercise, significantly increased plasma and muscle ammonia in the fish fed a high food ration. Muscle ammonia levels in general responded slower (first increase after 72 h) and recovered within 2 weeks of exposure. There was a significant correlation between plasma ammonia levels, muscle ammonia levels and ammonia excretion rates. Influence of copper in terms of ammonia excretion and plasma ammonia accumulation was observed in high ration fish but low ration fish remained unaffected. This clearly indicates that ammonia metabolism was significantly influenced by copper in this group of fish showing that during unfavourable environmental conditions a high amount of food supply may turn deleterious to fish.