Strenuous physical activity is known to increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), associated with depletion of antioxidant defence. In the present work we evaluated the level of lipid peroxidation and antioxidant components in blood of sportsmen under resting conditions and compared the data obtained with those in age- and sex-matched sedentary controls. A significant increase was noted in the levels of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) and conjugated dienes while a decrease was observed in ascorbic acid and glutathione levels in sportsmen. alpha-Tocopherol was unaltered in plasma of sportsmen as compared to controls. The activity of superoxide dismutase was increased (52 per cent) and glutathione peroxidase was decreased (43 per cent) in the erythrocytes of sportsmen compared to controls. Basal glutathione levels were negatively correlated with conjugated dienes and maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) of the subjects. Dietary supplementation with antioxidant vitamins has been shown to be beneficial in combating oxidative stress without enhancing performance while exogenous glutathione was found to influence the endurance capacity of athletes. Such studies demonstrate the critical role played by glutathione and suggest that intervention trials should include a mixture of antioxidants rather than a single antioxidant.