The present study examined the influence of training, followed by a short period of detraining, on postprandial lipaemia. Fourteen normolipidaemic, recreationally active young adults aged 18–31 years participated, in two self-selected groups: three men and five women (BMI 21·7–27·6 kg/m2) completed 13 weeks of running training, after which they refrained from exercise for 9 d; three men and three women (BMI 21·5–25·6 kg/m2) maintained their usual lifestyle. Oral fat tolerance tests were conducted at baseline and again 15 h, 60 h and 9 d after the runners' last training session. Blood samples were drawn after an overnight fast and at intervals for 6 h after consumption of a high-fat meal (1·2 g fat, 1·4 g carbohydrate, 70·6 kJ energy/kg body mass). Heparin was then administered (100 IU/kg) and a further blood sample was drawn for measurement of plasma lipoprotein lipase (EC 184.108.40.206; LPL) activity. Endurance fitness improved in runners, relative to controls (maximal O2 uptake +3·2 (SE 1·1) ml/kg per min v. − 1·3 (SE 1·2) ml/kg per min; P < 0·05). In the absence of the acute effect of exercise, i.e. 60 h after the last training session, there was no effect of training on either postprandial lipaemia or on post-heparin LPL activity. However, changes during 9 d of detraining in both these variables differed significantly between groups; after 2 d without exercise (60 h test), the runners' lipaemic response was 37% higher than it was the morning after their last training session (15 h test; runners v. controls P < 0·05), with a reciprocal decrease in post-heparin LPL activity (P < 0·01). These findings suggest that improved fitness does not necessarily confer an effect on postprandial lipaemia above that attributable to a single session of exercise.