The extent to which muscle glycogen depletion affects plasma free fatty acid (FFA) metabolism in contracting skeletal muscle is not well characterized. To study this question, rats were glycogen depleted (GD) or supercompensated (SC) by swimming exercise and diet treatment 24 h before perfusion of their isolated hindquarters at rest and during electrically induced muscle contractions. After 20 min of equilibration with glucose (6 mM), palmitate (2,000 microM), and [1-14C]palmitate, palmitate uptake and oxidation were found to be similar between groups at rest and during electrical stimulation. Palmitate uptake increased by 55% during electrical stimulation and averaged 2.75 +/- 0.56 mumol.g-1.h-1. Resting palmitate oxidation averaged 0.14 +/- 0.03 mumol.g-1.h-1 and increased to 0.53 +/- 0.06 and 0.47 +/- 0.08 mumol.g-1.h-1 during electrical stimulation in GD and SC, respectively. Glucose uptake was significantly higher in GD than in SC at rest and during electrical stimulation and significantly increased in both groups during electrical stimulation to reach values of 11.8 +/- 1.2 and 7.6 +/- 1.4 mumol.g-1.h-1, respectively. Lactate release was lower in GD than in SC at rest and during electrical stimulation and was highest after 2 min of stimulation in both groups. Additional experiments at perfusate palmitate concentrations of 600-900 microM yielded similar results. These results show that, in contracting perfused skeletal muscle, muscle glycogen depletion increases glucose utilization but does not affect total plasma FFA oxidation, suggesting that regulation within pathways of carbohydrate metabolism takes precedence over regulation between pathways of lipid and carbohydrate metabolism.