Exercise training efficiency depends on the intensity, volume, duration, and frequency of training, as well as on the athlete's ability to tolerate it. Recent efforts to quantify the effects of aerobic exercise training on hormonal response have suggested that exercise leads to simultaneous changes of antagonistic mediators. The effects of anaerobic exercise on these mediators are not known. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of a brief sprint interval session on the balance between anabolic (growth hormone [GH]--> insulin-like growth factor [IGF]-I axis) and catabolic hormones (cortisol), and circulating inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-6. Twelve healthy elite junior handball players (17-20 years) participated in the study. Exercise consisted of a 4 x 250-m run on a treadmill, at a constant intensity of 80% of the personal maximal speed. Each run was separated by 3 minutes of rest. Blood samples were collected before, immediately after each 250-m run, and 1 hour after the last run. Exercise led to significant increases in GH (0.3 +/- 0.2 to 5.1 +/- 2.2 ngxml, p < 0.05), IGF binding protein (IGFBP)-3 (4191 +/- 2.48 to 4875 +/- 301 ngxml, p < 0.05), IL-6 (1.3 +/- 0.2 to 2.1 +/- 0.3 pgxml, p < 0.002), testosterone, and testosterone/cortisol ratio, and to a significant decrease in IGFBP-1 levels. Levels of IL-6 remained elevated 1 hour after the end of exercise. Exercise had no significant effects on IGF-I and cortisol levels. Changes in the GH-IGF-I axis and testosterone/cortisol ratio after the brief sprint interval exercise suggested exercise-related anabolic adaptations. The increase in IL-6 may indicate its important role in muscle tissue repair after anaerobic exercise. Changes in the anabolic-catabolic hormonal balance and in inflammatory mediators can be used as an objective tool to gauge the training intensity of different types of anaerobic exercises and training periods.