Initial evaluation of 22 patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) on entry into a trial of home oxygen therapy was used to elucidate the possible effects of poor nutritional status on exercise performance in CF. The patients had advanced lung disease (mean FEV1, 36 percent predicted) and all had a stable resting PaO2 less than or equal to 65 mm Hg. Nutritional status was determined by calculating weight as a percentage of ideal for height (Wt/Ht) for each subject. Exercise testing consisted of a progressive exercise test on a cycle ergometer to measure maximum work capacity (Wmax), and a steady state test at 50 percent of baseline Wmax. During the steady state test, cardiac output (Q) and stroke volume (SV) were computed by the indirect Fick (CO2) method. Wmax, SV, Q and lung function results are expressed as percent predicted. Mean (+/- SD) Wmax was 58 +/- 15 percent predicted. Wmax correlated with both FEV1 and Wt/Ht, but FEV1 and Wt/Ht were not related. During steady state exercise, 12 of 22 patients had a SV less than 80 percent predicted. SV correlated with Wt/Ht, but not with lung function. Thirteen of the 22 patients had a Wt/Ht less than or equal to 90 percent and were considered malnourished. When compared with the well-nourished patients (Wt/Ht greater than 90%), these malnourished subjects had significantly lower mean values for Wmax%, SV% and Q% predicted, but not for lung function parameters. We conclude that: in patients with CF and advanced lung disease, nutritional status plays a significant role in determining exercise capacity; lower exercise tolerance of malnourished patients is an independent effect, as nutritional status and lung function were not related; and malnourished patients with CF have an altered cardiac performance on exercise testing which is due to a reduced SV rather than an impaired heart rate response.