The effect on exercising muscle metabolism of prior ingestion of 200 g glucose was examined in six healthy subjects during 40 min leg exercise at 30% of maximal oxygen uptake. Leg glucose uptake during exercise was on average two- to three-fold higher after glucose (E + G) compared to exercise without glucose (E) and could account for 44-48% of the oxidative leg metabolism (control value: 19%, P less than 0.05-0.01). In contrast to E, which was associated with a significant release of leg lactate, pyruvate and alanine, E + G gave no leg production of lactate or alanine and an uptake of pyruvate. The respiratory exchange ratios (R) were higher during G + E and corresponded to a carbohydrate oxidation of 54-69% as against 46-49% (P less than 0.05-0.01) during E. Estimated from R-values and leg oxygen and glucose uptakes, carbohydrate oxidation during G less than E was almost completely accounted for by blood glucose. During E, on the other hand, carbohydrate oxidation exceeded leg glucose uptake, indicating a small but significant muscle glycogen breakdown (P less than 0.01). The rate of glycogen utilization during E or G + E was too small to be detected by direct measurements of muscle glycogen content. The results demonstrate that glucose ingestion prior to light exercise is followed by increased uptake and more efficient oxidation of glucose, as well as by insignificant muscle glycogen degradation by exercising muscle. Although the present findings suggest a glycogen-conserving effect of glucose ingestion under these conditions, the main fuel shift is from fat to glucose oxidation.