Maximal activities of rat skeletal muscle mitochondrial citrate synthase (CS), malate dehydrogenase (MDH), and alanine aminotransferase (ALT), as well as several other mitochondrial enzymes involved in various metabolic functions were significantly suppressed after a single bout of acute or exhaustive treadmill running. This enzymatic "down regulation" was maintained 24 and 48 h post exhaustion, especially in the untrained rats. Neither muscle cytosolic nor hepatic enzymes exhibited down regulation after exercise. Proteolysis was increased with exercise as assessed by the clearance of [3H]leucine previously incorporated into the proteins of the rats. Decreased CS, MDH, and ALT activities correlated with a significant loss of mitochondrial total protein sulfhydryl (r = 0.67,0.68,0.59, respectively, P< 0.001) in untrained rats and both CS and MDH could be partially restored by incubation with dithiothreitol. Endurance-tested untrained and trained rats had significantly higher glutathione peroxidase (GPX) activity in both muscle mitochondria and cytosol which correlated significantly with endurance time (r = 0.70 and 0.74, respectively). It is concluded that enzymatic down regulation is not caused by proteolysis alone; i.e., peroxides and oxygen free radicals produced in prolonged exercise may alter the intramitochondrial redox state by oxidizing free thiols that may be required at active sites of these enzymes. Training may enhance the ability of the muscle to resist the toxic oxygen species by increasing GPX activity.