To assess changes of beta-endorphin during intense endurance exercise, ten nonspecifically trained volunteers (aged 25.7 +/- 2.9 years) were subjected to an exhaustive endurance test on a cycle ergometer at the work load of the individual anaerobic threshold (IAT) determined in a preparatory graded exercise test. Prior to, in 25-min intervals during, and repeatedly subsequent to exercise venous blood samples were drawn to measure the levels of beta-endorphin (beta-E), cortisol (C), adrenaline (A), and noradrenaline (NA). In addition, lactate, heart rate, and rate of perceived exertion were determined. The levels of beta-E remained unchanged during the first 50 min; between the 50th and 75th min beta-E increased by 82% (p less than 0.01). At the end of the exercise (mean exercise time: 89 min), a beta-E level three times the resting level was measured. The maximum exercise-induced increase of beta-E showed a positive correlation to endurance capacity (W.kg-1 of IAT): r = 0.74; p less than 0.05. C exhibited similar changes to beta-E, but the onset of increase was delayed if compared with beta-E; there was a close correlation between these two stress hormones (75th min of exercise: r = 0.91; p less than 0.001). The catecholamines A and NA increased linearly during exercise, without a correlation with the behavior of beta-E being established.