The intracellular contents of sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), and chloride (Cl-) in rat hindlimb muscles (soleus, plantaris, white and red gastrocnemii) were measured by instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) and atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS). Muscle extracellular fluid volume (ECFV) was determined using [3H]mannitol, [14C]mannitol, [3H]polyethylene glycol (PEG, mol wt 900, PEG-900) or the chloride (Cl) method and intracellular fluid volume (ICFV) calculated. Rats were anesthetized with pentobarbital sodium. The muscles were biopsied, frozen in liquid nitrogen, freeze-dried, weighed, and transferred to vials for analysis. For a given muscle, ion contents measured by the two methods showed a consistent small difference which could not be explained. The PEG-900 space and the Cl method yielded a larger ECFV than did mannitol; it is concluded that PEG-900 and Cl overestimate ECFV. There were significant differences in total tissue water (TTW), ECFV, ICFV, and intracellular ion contents between the different muscle types. The fast glycolytic muscles (white gastrocnemius, plantaris) had lower TTW (758 ml/kg wet wt) and ECFV (6.5–8.5% TTW) but the highest ICFV; the soleus (slow oxidative fibers) had the highest TTW (766 ml/kg wet wt) and ECFV (10–15% TTW) but the lowest ICFV. The fast-twitch white gastrocnemius and plantaris muscles have a higher intracellular content of K+ and lower Na+ and Cl- than the slow-twitch soleus muscle. The technique of INAA provides a rapid and accurate means of determining intramuscular ion content in small samples of tissue.