Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is now established as a non-invasive method of studying metabolism in living systems, ranging from cellular suspensions to man. With respect to clinical applications, recent developments include the successful implementation of new techniques for spatial localisation, and in particular the acquisition of excellent 1H spectra from selected regions of the human brain. Localised 1H spectroscopy opens the way to monitoring a wide range of compounds that are inaccessible to 31P NMR, and should add considerably to the information that is available from 31P studies. NMR spectroscopy does, however, have its limitations, which arise primarily from the fact that it is an insensitive technique. This lack of sensitivity limits the spatial resolution for metabolic studies, and means that metabolites must be present at fairly high concentrations in order to produce detectable signals. In this article, we illustrate the scope and limitations of NMR spectroscopy by describing a few examples of studies undertaken on animals and humans.