We measured energy expenditure with the doubly labeled water technique during heavy sustained exercise in the Tour de France, a bicycle race lasting more than 3 wk. Four subjects were observed for consecutive intervals of 7, 8, and 7 days. Each interval started with an oral isotope dose to reach an excess isotope level of 200 ppm 18O and 130 ppm 2H. The biological half-lives of the isotopes were between 2.25 and 3.80 days. Energy expenditure was compared with simultaneous measurements of energy intake, and body mass and body composition did not change significantly. The doubly labeled water technique gave higher values for energy expenditure than the food record technique. The discrepancy showed a systematic increment from the first to the third interval, being 12.9 +/- 7.9, 21.4 +/- 9.8, and 35.3 +/- 4.4% of the energy expenditure calculated from dietary intake, respectively. Possible explanations for the discrepancy are discussed. The subjects reached an average daily metabolic rate of 3.4-3.9 or 4.3-5.3 times basal metabolic rate based on the food record technique and the doubly labeled water technique, respectively. Thus, when measured with the same technique, the energetic ceiling for performance in humans is comparable with that of animals like birds.