Hyperglycemia with accompanying hyperinsulinemia occurs after brief, greater than 85% maximum oxygen consumption exercise to exhaustion in normal subjects and persists up to 60 min of recovery. To determine the importance of endogenous insulin secretion during and after intense exercise, responses to exercise of lean fit male post-absorptive insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) subjects, aged 18-34 yr, were compared with those of control subjects (C; n = 6). Three iv insulin protocols were employed: hyperglycemic (HG; n = 7) and euglycemic (EG1; n = 6) with constant insulin infusion, and euglycemic with doubled insulin infusion during recovery (EG2; n = 6). Overnight iv insulin was adjusted to achieve prolonged euglycemia (5.4 +/- 0.3 mmol/L) or hyperglycemia (8.6 +/- 0.3 mmol/L) before exercise. This allowed for comparisons between HG and EG1 (constant infusion) and between C and EG2 (to approximate physiological hyperinsulinemia by doubling the infusion rates at exhaustion for 56 +/- 7 min during recovery). Subjects exercised to 89-98% of their individual maximum oxygen consumption for 12.8 +/- 0.3 min. Glycemia increased to maximum values at 6 min of recovery (9.8 +/- 0.5 in HG, 6.9 +/- 0.4 in EG1, 7.3 +/- 0.3 in EG2, and 6.9 +/- 0.4 mmol/L in C). Whereas in EG2 and C, glucose returned to resting values in 50-80 min, it remained elevated at 120 min recovery in HG and EG1. During exercise, [3-3H]-glucose-determined glucose production increased markedly and exceeded disappearance in all groups, but less so in the HG subjects than in the other groups. An early recovery decline in glucose production did not differ among groups, but MCR (rate of glucose disappearance/glycemia) were markedly lower in HG and EG1, in whom plasma free insulin remained unchanged from 15 min of recovery onward (MCR, 1.6-1.9 vs. 2.3-2.8 mL/kg.min in C). Doubling the insulin infusion rate in EG2 restored the MCR response to that of C subjects. In summary, constant insulin infusion is insufficient to prevent prolonged postexercise hyperglycemia in IDDM subjects, even when provided at a rate sufficient to maintain normal resting glycemia and glucose turnover. The finding that increasing the rate of insulin infusion restored plasma glucose to normal in IDDM subjects suggests that the postexercise increase in insulin levels observed in normal subjects is essential to return plasma glucose to resting levels. Therefore, special strategies, differing from those for less strenuous exercise, are required for the management of insulin therapy in IDDM during and after intense exercise.