Serum leptin and free fatty acid concentrations were determined in two groups of subjects undergoing strenuous exercise: 12 men who fasted overnight and then pedaled e stationary ergometer for 2 hours, and 14 nonfasting ultramarathon runners. Blood samples were collected before exercise immediately after cessation of exercise, and 6 to 24 hours after the end of the exercise period. Two hours of strenuous pedaling following an overnight fast significantly reduced mean leptin levels by 8.3%; free fatty acids were highly increased and correlated well with the decrease in serum leptin (r = .737, P = .01). After 6 hours of rest and refeeding, leptin concentrations recovered to preexercise levels end free fatty acid concentrations were decreased to less than preexercise levels. A similar decrease in serum leptin levels (12,3%) occurred in subjects who fasted overnight and then for a period corresponding to the cycle exercise period. The prolonged exercise of an ultramarathon significantly reduced leptin concentrations by 32% in comparison to preface levels; free fatty acid concentrations were highly increased, but did not correlate with the change in serum leptin concentrations (r = .366, P = .20). Leptin and free fatty acid concentrations all trended toward prerace levels in blood samples collected 18 to 24 hours after cessation of racing. The results suggest that the negative energy balance of exercise can reduce serum leptin concentrations, but that the significant decrease occurs only at extremes of severity/duration of the exercise-induced negative balance. The possible physiological role of reduced leptin concentrations in response to energy balance and the role of free fatty acids in mediating the response are discussed.