Primed-continuous infusion of [2-3H]- and [U-14C]lactate was used to study the effects of endurance training (running 2 h/day at 29.4 m/min up a 15% gradient) on lactate metabolism in rats. Measurements were made under three metabolic conditions: rest (Re), easy exercise (EE, 13.4 m/min, 1% gradient) and hard exercise (HE, 26.8 m/min, 1% gradient). Blood lactate levels in trained animals increased from 1.0 +/- 0.09 mM in Re to 1.64 +/- 0.21 in EE and 2.66 +/- 0.38 in HE. Control animals also demonstrated an increase in blood lactate with increasing work rate, but values were 1.93 +/- 0.21 and 4.62 +/- 0.57 mM at EE and HE, respectively. Lactate turnover rates (RtLA) measured with [U-14C]lactate increased from 214.0 +/- 17.0 mumol.kg-1.min-1 in Re to 390.3 +/- 31.6 in EE and 518.1 +/- 56.4 in HE. No significant differences in RtLA were observed between controls and trained animals under any condition. Identical relationships between RtLA and exercise or training were obtained with [2-3H]lactate; however, the values obtained were consistently 90% higher than those observed with [U-14C]lactate. Metabolic clearance rate (MCR) for 14C was not significantly different in Re between controls and trained animals (180.6 +/- 27.7 ml.kg-1.min-1). Metabolic clearance of lactate in trained animals was 37 and 107% greater than in controls during EE and HE, respectively. Results indicate that the effect of endurance training is not on production of lactate but on its clearance from the blood.