OBJECTIVE: The effects of short-term moderate physiological changes in energy flux and energy balance, by exercise and over- or underfeeding, on a 24h plasma leptin profile, were investigated. DESIGN: Subjects were studied over 24h in four randomized conditions: no exercise/energy balance (energy intake (EI)=energy expenditure (EE)=11.8+/-0.8 MJ); exercise/energy balance (EI=EE=15.1+/-0.6 MJ); exercise/negative energy balance (EI=11.8+/-0.8 MJ, EE=15.1+/-0.8 MJ); exercise/positive energy balance (El=18.6+/-0.7 MJ, EE=15.1+/-0.6 MJ). SUBJECTS: Eight healthy, lean men (age: 23.5+/-7.0y, body fat 14.1+/-5.4%, body mass index (BMI): 21.4+/-2.3 kg/m2). MEASUREMENTS: Blood was sampled every hour during the daytime (09.00-23.00h) and every two hours during the night (01.00-09.00h) for analysis of plasma leptin, insulin, glucose, FFA and catecholamines. RESULTS: Plasma leptin levels were highest around 01.00h (mean+/-s.e.m. 4.9+/-2.0 ng/ml) and lowest around 11.00 h. (2.3+/-0.7 ng/ml). An increased 24h EE, induced by exercise under conditions of energy balance, significantly decreased the peak and average 24h plasma leptin concentration. A positive energy balance, by overfeeding, resulted in a significantly higher amplitude of the 24h plasma leptin curve, compared to a condition of energy balance. CONCLUSION: Exercise decreases peak and average 24h plasma leptin concentration and a moderately positive energy balance increases the amplitude of the 24h plasma leptin profile. These effects are not acute, but are manifest within 24h. The variations of average 24h FFA and average 24h glucose concentrations almost fully explained the variation in average 24h leptin concentration across trials.