Rapid and complete rehydration, or restoration of fluid spaces, is important when acute illness or excessive sweating has compromised hydration status. Many studies have investigated the effects of graded concentrations of sodium and other electrolytes in rehydration solutions; however, no study to date has determined the effect of carbohydrate on fluid retention when electrolyte concentrations are held constant. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of graded levels of carbohydrate on fluid retention following exercise-induced dehydration. Fifteen heat-acclimatized men exercised in the heat for 90 min with no fluid to induce 2-3% dehydration. After a 30-min equilibration period, they received, over the course of 60 min, one of five test beverages equal to 100% of the acute change in body mass. The experimental beverages consisted of a flavored placebo with no electrolytes (P), placebo with electrolytes (P + E), 3%, 6%, and 12% carbohydrate solutions with electrolytes. All beverages contained the same type and concentration of electrolytes (18 meq/l Na(+), 3 meq/l K(+), 11 meq/l Cl(-)). Subjects voided their bladders at 60, 90, 120, 180, and 240 min, and urine specific gravity and urine volume were measured. Blood samples were taken before exercise and 30, 90, 180, and 240 min following exercise and were analyzed for glucose, sodium, hemoglobin, hematocrit, renin, aldosterone, and osmolality. Body mass was measured before and after exercise and a final body mass was taken at 240 min. There were no differences in percent dehydration, sweat loss, or fluid intake between trials. Fluid retention was significantly greater for all carbohydrate beverages compared with P (66.3 +/- 14.4%). P + E (71.8 +/- 9.9%) was not different from water, 3% (75.4 +/- 7.8%) or 6% (75.4 +/- 16.4%) but was significantly less than 12% (82.4 +/- 9.2%) retention of the ingested fluid. No difference was found between the carbohydrate beverages. Carbohydrate at the levels measured exerts a mild influence on fluid retention in postexercise recovery.