The effect of different rates of fluid ingestion on heart rate, rectal temperature, plasma electrolytes, hormones and performance was examined during prolonged strenuous exercise conducted at 21 degrees C. Seven well-trained males (24 +/- 1 yr; 68.6 +/- 2.9 kg; VO2 peak = 4.69 +/- 0.17 L min-1; mean +/- SEM) cycled for 2 h at 69 +/- 1% VO2 peak while receiving either no fluid replacement (NF), a volume of water estimated to prevent body weight loss (FR-100 = 2.32 +/- 0.10 L 2 h-1) or 50% of this volume (FR-60 = 1.16 +/- 0.05 L 2 h-1). The 2-h exercise bout was followed by a ride to exhaustion at a workload estimated to be 90% VO2 peak. After 2 h of exercise, NF was associated with a 3.2 +/- 0.1% weight loss, while FR-50 and FR-100 resulted in losses of 1.8 +/- 0.1 and 0.1 +/- 0.1%, respectively. Compared with FR-100, heart rate and rectal temperature were elevated (P < 0.05) during the second hour of exercise in NF, with FR-50 intermediate. Reductions in plasma volume during exercise were greater in NF and FR-50, compared with FR-100 and plasma sodium concentration was elevated in NF, decreased slightly in FR-100, with FR-50 intermediate. Plasma renin activity, aldosterone and atrial natriuretic peptide increased to similar extents in the three trials. Plasma vasopressin remained unchanged for FR-100, increased for NF, with intermediate values for FR-50. Exercise time to exhaustion at 90% VO2-peak was longer in FR-100 (328 +/- 93 s) than NF (171 +/- 75 s) with FR-50 (248 +/- 107 s) not significantly different from either FR-100 or NF. In conclusion, the responses of heart rate, rectal temperature, plasma sodium, and vasopressin during, and performance following, prolonged cycling exercise conducted at 21 degrees C are related to the amount of fluid ingested (i.e. the degree of dehydration).