In order to study how the diet may influence sympatho-adrenal activity during exercise, 7 subjects were examined at rest and during submaximal exercise (25 min at 65% of VO2 max) on two occasions. The first occasion was preceded by 5 days on a carbohydrate poor diet (5% carbohydrate, 72% fat and 23% protein) and the second one by 5 days on a carbohydrate rich diet (78% carbohydrate, 8% fat and 14% protein) with the same energy content. Oxygen uptake, respiratory exchange ratio (R), heart rate and arterial plasma concentrations of adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine, insulin, glucose, lactate, free fatty acids (FFA), glycerol and beta-hydroxybutyrate were measured at rest and during exercise. Oxygen uptake and heart rate during exercise were higher and R was lower after the carbohydrate poor than after the carbohydrate rich diet. During exercise the arterial plasma concentrations of FFA, glycerol and beta-hydroxybutyrate were higher after the carbohydrate poor than after the carbohydrate rich diet whereas concentrations of insulin and lactate were lower. At rest arterial plasma noradrenaline and adrenaline levels were similar on the two diets (0.70 +/- 0.31 nM noradrenaline and 0.35 +/- 0.32 nM adrenaline one the carbohydrate rich diet, mean values +/- SD). Exercise induced increases in noradrenaline were more pronounced after the carbohydrate poor than after the carbohydrate rich diet (12.42 +/- 3.41 vs. 7.45 +/- 2.68 at 25 min of exercise, p less than 0.001). A similar, although more variable accentuation of exercise induced increases in adrenaline was found. It is concluded that, when compared to a carbohydrate rich diet, a carbohydrate poor diet increases the relative contribution of fat to oxidative metabolism and increases the sympatho-adrenal response to exercise. Stimulation of lipolysis by sympatho-adrenal mechanisms might be of importance for the substrate availability when carbohydrate intake in low.