Four groups of female Sprague-Dawley rats received a nutritionally adequate liquid diet formulated for rats. Two groups, one ethanol diet and one control diet swam 6 days/wk for 6 weeks and were designated swim ethanol (SWM-E) and swim control (SWM-C) respectively. Their swimming time increased from 15 min/day on the first day to 2 hrs/day during the final week. One sedentary group received an ethanol diet (SED-E) while another sedentary group received a control diet (SED-C). In the ethanol diet 35% of the calories as ethanol isoenergetically replaced dextrin. The group mean body weights were not different at the end of 6 weeks. The left ventricles of both swimming groups showed similar gains in weight, 13% for the ethanol and 15% for the control. Mitochondrial respiration in the ethanol groups showed a significant depression across substrates and across both pupulations of mitochondria (subsarcolemmal and intermyofibrillar). The swimming-ethanol interaction in the SWM-E group caused an atrophy of the gastrocnemius-plantaris muscle as evidenced by the 13% loss in weight of the muscle. We conclude that chronic ingestion of ethanol will suppress mitochondrial respiration in sedentary and swimming exercised rats, but will not suppress cardiac hypertrophy in the swimming exercised rats. Muscles that are not chronically overloaded by swimming, such as the gastrocnemius-plantaris muscles will undergo atrophy during the swimming protocol of 6 weeks.