We recently observed that a 24-h fasted group of rats could run longer than an ad libitum fed control group before becoming exhausted. Because of the demonstrated importance of glycogen levels and free fatty acid availability during endurance exercise, we have investigated several parameters of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in exercised and nonexercised rats that were either fed ad libitum or fasted for 24 h. A 24-h fast depleted liver glycogen, lowered plasma glucose concentration, decreased muscle glycogen levels, and increased free fatty acid and beta-hydroxybutyrate concentrations in plasma. During exercise the fasted group had lower plasma glucose concentration, higher plasma concentration of free fatty acids and beta-hydroxybutyrate, and a lower muscle glycogen depletion rate than did the ad libitum fed group. Since fasted rats were able to continue running even when plasma glucose had dropped to levels lower than those of fed-exhausted rats, it seems unlikely that blood glucose level, per se, is a factor in causing exhaustion. These results suggest that fasting increases fatty acid utilization during exercise and the resulting "glycogen sparing" effect may result in increased endurance.