The purpose of this investigation was to study myocardial function at rest, during three phases of energy supply, and during recovery. Radionuclide angiography was performed during the aerobic phase (phase I, rest-first lactate increase), the aerobic-anaerobic transition phase (phase II, first lactate increase-second lactate increase), the anaerobic phase (phase III, second lactate increase-maximal work performance (Pmax)), and during recovery. Thirty-eight male patients (59 +/- 7 d after myocardial infarction) were compared with 19 healthy control subjects and 21 sport students of comparable age. Left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) increased from rest to phase I and from phase I to phase II in sports students and control subjects. During phase III, LVEF did not change significantly in sports students, but it decreased significantly in control subjects. This is in contrast to the patients, who showed an increase of LVEF from resting values (47 +/- 3%) to phase I (50 +/- 1%), no change during phase II (51 +/- 2%), and a decrease to resting values (45 +/- 2) during phase III. All subjects showed an increase in stroke volume (SV) during phase I and II, reaching a maximum at phase II. This was evidenced by an improvement of the systolic function with a constant left ventricular end-diastolic volume (EDV) in control subjects and sports students. In contrast, an improved SV in patients was achieved through an increase in EDV and a less distinct increase in the left ventricular end-systolic volume (ESV). Maximal LVEF values were measured during the first 90 s of recovery in all subjects. Values during recovery are not representative of load dependent myocardial function. This increase in LVEF does not cause an increase in cardiac output but is a consequence of changes in the EDV and ESV, which decrease again immediately after the end of exercise performance.