Intravascular hemolysis is one of the most emphasized mechanisms for destruction of erythrocytes during and after physical activity. Exercise-induced oxidative stress has been proposed among the different factors for explaining exercise-induced hemolysis. The validity of oxidative stress following exhaustive cycling exercise on erythrocyte damage was investigated in sedentary and trained subjects before and after antioxidant vitamin treatment (A, C, and E) for 2 mo. Exercise induced a significant increase in thiobarbituric acid-reactive substance and protein carbonyl content levels in sedentary subjects and resulted in an increase of osmotic fragility and decrease in deformiability of erythrocytes, accompanied by. signs for intravascular hemolysis (increase in plasma hemoglobin concentration and decrease in haptoglobulin levels). Administration of antioxidant vitamins for 2 mo prevented exercise-induced oxidative stress (thiobarbituric acid-reactive substance, protein carbonyl content) and deleterious effects of exhaustive exercise on erythrocytes in sedentary subjects. Trained subjects' erythrocyte responses to exercise were different from those of sedentary subjects before antioxidant vitamin treatment. Osmotic fragility and deformability of erythrocytes, plasma hemoglobin concentration, and haptoglobulin levels were not changed after exercise, although the increased oxidative stress was observed in trained subjects. After antioxidant vitamin treatment, functional and structural parameters of erythrocytes were not altered in the trained group, but exercise-induced oxidative stress was prevented. Increased percentage of young erythrocyte populations was determined in trained subjects by density separation of erythrocytes. These findings suggest that the exercise-induced oxidative stress may contribute to exercise-induced hemolysis in sedentary humans.