Tissue sensitivity to insulin and aerobic work capacity was measured in patients with mild to moderate progressive chronic renal failure. Twenty-nine non-diabetic patients with a glomerular filtration rate of 25 ml.min-1.1.73 m-2 (11-43) (median, range) and 15 sex, age, and body mass index matched control subjects with normal renal function were studied. Fasting blood glucose was comparable and in the non-diabetic range in the two groups as was the oral glucose tolerance test. Patients demonstrated hyperinsulinaemia both during fasting (p < 0.01) and during the test (p < 0.02). The tissue sensitivity to insulin, expressed by the amount of glucose infused during the last 60 min of a 120-min hyperinsulinaemia euglycaemic clamp (M-value) and the M/I ratio, was significantly lower in the patients than in the control subjects (M-value 404 +/- 118 vs 494 +/- 85 mg glucose/kg body weight, p < 0.02) (M/I ratio 1.77 +/- 0.71 vs 2.57 +/- 0.70 (mg/(kgBW.min) per pmol/l.100, p < 0.001). The maximal aerobic work capacity was significantly lower in the patients than in the control subjects (24 +/- 8 vs 32 +/- 11 ml O2/(kg body weight.min), p < 0.02) and positively correlated to the M-value and the M/I ratio in both groups. In conclusion, not only patients with end-stage chronic renal failure but also those with mild to moderate progressive chronic renal failure are insulin resistant and hyperinsulinaemic. The tissue sensitivity to insulin is correlated to the maximal aerobic work capacity suggesting that these patients might benefit from physical training programmes.