Cold K+ cardioplegia is commonly used to preserve the myocardium during surgical ischemia. Since the K+-induced membrane depolarization could cause a Ca2+-mediated breakdown of adenosine triphosphate, this study compared the influence of different electrolytes on high-energy phosphate metabolism during cardioplegic arrest and subsequent recovery of mechanical function. An isolated working heart was subjected to hypothermic ischemia for one hour. Metabolic studies were assessed on phosphorus 31 nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Results show that (1) K+ cardioplegia is harmful when the Ca2+ content is equal to 2 mEq/L; (2) deleterious effects of K+ are markedly reduced by lowering the Ca2+ content; (3) the most adequate preservation is provided by a Mg2+-rich–Ca2+-poor perfusate; (4) this protection is not enhanced by addition of K+. Finally, 31P NMR appears particularly appropriate for evaluating myocardial protection techniques since it allows noninvasive serial monitoring of high-energy phosphate content and subsequent correlation with functional recovery after ischemia. © 1981, The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. All rights reserved.