Three weeks of dietary iron deficiency in weanling rats resulted in anemia (Hb, 3.9 vs. 14.2 g/dl in controls) and decreased oxidative capacities of skeletal muscle (as much as 90% below control values). Whole-animal maximal O2 consumption (VO2max), measured in a brief treadmill run of progressively increasing work load, was approximately 50% lower for iron-deficient rats than for controls, and maximal endurance capacity (time to exhaustion in a separate treadmill run at a constant, sub-Vo2max work load) was 90% lower for iron-deficient rats than for controls. Exchange transfusion, with packed erythrocytes or plasma, was used to adjust Hb to an intermediate concentration of approximately 9.5 g/dl in both iron-deficient and and control rats. This procedure corrected the Vo2max of iron-deficient rats to within 15% of control values, whereas endurance capacity showed no improvement. Our experimental dissociation of Vo2max and endurance capacity provides further evidence that Vo2max is not the sole determinant of endurance. We propose that defects in Vo2max during iron deficiency result primarily from diminished O2 delivery, whereas decreased endurance capacity reflects impaired muscle mitochondrial function.