The relationships between in vivo 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and in vitro markers of oxidative capacity (mitochondrial function) were determined in 27 women with varying levels of physical fitness. Following 90-s isometric plantar flexion exercises, calf muscle mitochondrial function was determined from the phosphocreatine (PCr) recovery time constant, the adenosine diphosphate (ADP) recovery time constant, the rate of change of PCr during the initial 14 s of recovery, and the apparent maximum rate of oxidative adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis (Qmax). Muscle fiber type distribution (I, IIa, IIx), citrate synthase (CS) activity, and cytochrome c oxidase (COX) activity were determined from a biopsy sample of lateral gastrocnemius. MRS markers of mitochondrial function correlated moderately (P < 0.05) with the percentage of type Ila oxidative fibers (r = 0.41 to 0.66) and CS activity (r = 0.48 to 0.64), but only weakly with COX activity (r = 0.03 to 0.26, P > 0.05). These results support the use of MRS to determine mitochondrial function in vivo. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.