Endurance exercise training induces a significant increase in the respiratory capacity of skeletal muscle. This is reflected by a training-induced increase in mitochondrial enzyme activity. One consequence of this adaptation is that there is a decreased reliance on carbohydrate utilization with a concomitant increase in fat utilization, resulting in an improvement in endurance capacity. Recently it has been reported that 7-14 days of cycle ergometer exercise training does not induce an increase in mitochondrial enzyme levels in skeletal muscle but, nevertheless, results in smaller decreases in phosphocreatine and glycogen and smaller increases in Pi and lactate in muscle in response to the same exercise after compared with before training. However, previous studies in rats have shown that an adaptive increase in mitochondrial enzymes is already evident after only 2 days of exercise training. In view of this discrepency, the present study was performed to reevaluate the effect of short-term training (7-10 days) on mitochondrial enzymes in skeletal muscle of humans. Twelve subjects [6 men and 6 women, 27 +/- 5 (SE) yr old] underwent 7 (n = 5) or 10 days (n = 7) of cycle ergometer exercise for 2h/day at 60-70% of peak O2 consumption. Peak O2 consumption was increased by 9% (from 2.97 +/- 0.16 to 3.24 +/- 0.17 l/min) in response to training. Blood lactate levels were lower at the same absolute work rates after than before training. The activities of citrate synthase, beta-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase, mitochondrial thiolase, and carnitine acetyltransferase were increased by approximately 30% in response to training. The results of the present study provide evidence that in humans, as in rats, the adaptive increase in mitochondrial enzymes in skeletal muscle occurs fairly rapidly in response to exercise training. They provide no support for the claim that this adaptive response is delayed for > 2 wk after the onset of training.