The exchange of ions between blood and inactive muscle was studied in healthy males (n = 11) who performed four 30-s bouts of maximum isokinetic leg exercise, with 4 min of rest between bouts; recovery was followed for 90 min. Blood was sampled from the brachial artery and antecubital vein from inactive arm, and biopsies were taken from the nonworking deltoid muscles. During exercise, whole blood and plasma arteriovenous (a-v) differences across the arm showed increased net uptake of lactate (Lac-), K+, Na+, Cl-, glycerol, and O2. Arm glucose uptake also increased during exercise and the last 30 min of recovery, but there was no change in muscle glycogen content. Deltoid intracellular Lac- concentration [( Lac-]) increased 2.5-fold to 8.2 +/- 1.4 meq/l during exercise and 25 min of recovery. Despite evidence of uptake from blood and plasma a-v differences, deltoid intracellular K+, Na+, and Cl- concentrations did not change. During recovery, arm a-v differences showed no Lac- release, but Cl- and Na+ were released to venous blood for at least 90 min of recovery. During repeated exercise, the elevated Lac- uptake (a-v [Lac-] is 5-8 meq/l) and a HCO3- release (a-v HCO3- concentration is -8-11 meq/l) by the arm was suggestive of a possible anion exchange (Lac-/HCO3-). It is concluded that during heavy exercise non-working muscles take up and oxidize significant amounts of Lac-. Other inactive tissues also play a role in the regulation of ion and metabolite concentrations of blood.