The aim of this study was to find out whether a low-carbohydrate diet (L-CHO) affects: (1) the capacity for all-out anaerobic exercise, and (2) hormonal and metabolic responses to this type of exercise. To this purpose, eight healthy subjects underwent a 30-s bicycle Wingate test preceded by either 3 days of a controlled mixed diet (130 kJ/kg of body mass daily, 50% carbohydrate, 30% fat, 20% protein) or 3 days of an isoenergetic L-CHO diet (up to 5% carbohydrate, 50% fat, 45% protein) in a randomized order. Before and during 1 h after the exercise venous blood samples were taken for measurement of blood lactate (LA), beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta-HB), glucose, adrenaline (A), noradrenaline (NA) and insulin levels. Oxygen consumption (VO2) was also determined. It was found that the L-CHO diet diminished the mean power output during the 30-s exercise bout [533 (7) W vs 581 (7) W, P < 0.05] without changing the maximal power attained during the first or second 5-s interval of the exercise. In comparison with the data obtained after the consumption of a mixed diet, after the consumption of a L-CHO diet resting plasma concentrations of beta-HB [2.38 (0.18) vs 0.23 (0.01) mmol x l(-1), P < 0.001] and NA [4.81 (0.68) vs 2.2 (0.31) nmol x l(-1), P < 0.05] were higher, while glucose [4.6 (0.1) vs 5.7 (0.2) mmol x l(-1), P < 0.05] and insulin concentrations [11.9 (0.9) vs 21.8 (1.8) mU x l(-1)] were lower. The 1-h post-exercise excess of VO2 [9.1 (0.25) vs 10.6 (0.25) 1, P < 0.05], and blood LA measured 3 min after the exercise [9.5 (0.4) vs 10.6 (0.5) mmol x l(-1), P < 0.05] were lower following the L-CHO treatment, whilst plasma NA and A concentrations reached higher values [2.24 (0.40) vs 1.21 (0.13) nmol x l(-1) and 14.30 (1.41) vs 8.20 (1.31) nmol x l(-1), P < 0.01, respectively]. In subjects on the L-CHO diet, the plasma beta-HB concentration decreased quickly after exercise, attaining approximately 30% of the pre-exercise value within 60 min, while insulin and glucose levels were elevated. The main conclusions of this study are: (1) a L-CHO diet is detrimental to anaerobic work capacity, possibly because of a reduced muscle glycogen store and decreased rate of glycolysis; (2) reduced carbohydrate intake for 3 days enhances activity of the sympathoadrenal system at rest and after exercise.