In this study we determined whether the decline in exercise stroke volume (SV) observed when endurance-trained men stop training for a few weeks is associated with a reduced blood volume. Additionally, we determined the extent to which cardiovascular function could be restored in detrained individuals by expanding blood volume to a similar level as when trained. Maximal O2 uptake (VO2max) was determined, and cardiac output (CO2 rebreathing) was measured during upright cycling at 50-60% VO2max in eight endurance-trained men before and after 2-4 wk of inactivity. Detraining produced a 9% decline in blood volume (5,177 to 4,692 ml; P less than 0.01) during upright exercise, due primarily to a 12% lowering (P less than 0.01) of plasma volume (PV; Evans blue dye technique). SV was reduced by 12% (P less than 0.05) and VO2max declined 6% (P less than 0.01), whereas heart rate (HR) and total peripheral resistance (TPR) during submaximal exercise were increased 11% (P less than 0.01) and 8% (P less than 0.05), respectively. When blood volume was expanded to a similar absolute level in the trained and detrained state (approximately 5,500 +/- 200 ml) by infusing a 6% dextran solution in saline, the effects of detraining on cardiovascular response were reversed. SV and VO2max were increased (P less than 0.05) by PV expansion in the detrained state to within 2-4% of trained values. Additionally, HR and TPR during submaximal exercise were lowered to near trained values. These findings indicate that the decline in cardiovascular function following a few weeks of detraining is largely due to a reduction in blood volume, which appears to limit ventricular filling during upright exercise.