Thyroid function has been investigated in 24 young military cadets participating in a 5 d ranger training course with heavy physical exercise, calorie deficiency and deprivation of sleep. The cadets were divided into three groups, each differing in the amount of sleep and food consumption. The serum levels of thyroid hormones (T4, FT4, T3, rT3) and TBG showed a biphasic pattern during the course. Initially there was an increased secretion concomitant with an increased deiodination of T4 to T3 and rT3 mainly due to physical exercise. When the activities lasted for several days without sufficient food supply the thyroid secretion decreased simultaneously with an alteration of the peripheral conversion of T4 to rT3 instead of T3. A significant correlation was found between the changes in total and free thyroxine (r = 0.9) and between the increase in rT3 and decrease in T3 (r = 0.6). TSH decreased during the first day of activities and remained low throughout the course. The TSH response to TRH stimulation was greatly reduced during the course due to physical exercise and calorie deficiency. The present investigation demonstrates that the thyroid function is strongly affected by prolonged physical exercise and a negative energy balance, whereas sleep deprivation does not have any significant influence. The results indicate that the alteration observed is not regulated just by the hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid-axis alone.