Serum urea increases with exercise duration suggest prolonged exercise may be analogous to starvation where protein catabolism is known to occur. The purpose of this investigation was to alter muscle glycogen levels and to study the effect on protein catabolism. Six subjects (27-30 yr) pedaled a cycle ergometer for 1 h at 61% VO2max (mean VO2 = 2.33 +/- 0.7 1 . min-1) 1) after CHO loading (CHOL) and 2) after CHO depletion (CHOD). The following urea N measures were made: pre-exercise serum and urine, exercise serum and sweat (15-min serial samples), and serum and urine during 240 recovery min. Results demonstrated that 1) exercise serum urea N increased in CHOD attaining significance (P less than 0.01) at 60 min; 2) serum urea N increases continued into recovery at all measurement points of CHOD (P less than 0.01) and at 240 min of CHOL (P less than 0.05); 3) sweat urea N increased 154.2-fold (CHOD) and 65.6-fold (CHOL) (P less than 0.05). Calculations indicate that CHOD sweat urea N excretion was equivalent to a protein breakdown of 13.7 g . h-1 or 10.4% of the total caloric cost. It was concluded that protein is utilized during exercise to a greater extent than is generally assumed and that under certain conditions protein carbon may contribute significantly to exercise caloric cost.