It is still unclear if performance recovery in postischemic hearts is related to their tissue level of high-energy phosphates before reflow. To test the existence of this link, we monitored performance, metabolism and histological damage in isolated, crystalloid-perfused rat hearts during 20 min of low-flow ischemia (90% coronary flow reduction) and reflow. To prevent interference from different ischemia times and perfusing media compositions, the ischemic ATP level was varied by changing energy demand (electrical pacing at 330 min−1). Under full coronary flow conditions, work output, as well as ATP and phosphocreatine contents were the same in control, spontaneously contracting (n = 23) and paced (n = 21) hearts. During low-flow ischemia, the higher work output (p < 0.0001) in paced hearts decreased their tissue content of ATP, phosphocreatine and total adenylates and purines (p < 0.05), as opposed to maintained values in control hearts. During reflow, the recovery of mechanical performance and O2 uptake was 94 ± 5% and 110 ± 9% (p = NS vs. baseline) in controls, vs. 71 ± 5% and 74 ± 6% in paced hearts (p < 0.004 vs. baseline). The levels of ATP and total adenylates and purines remained constant in control, but were markedly depressed (p < 0.05 vs. baseline) in paced hearts. Phosphocreatine+creatine was the same in both groups. These data, together with the observed lack of creatine kinase leakage and of structural damage, indicate that myocardial recovery during reflow reflects the tissue level of ATP, phosphocreatine and total adenylates and purines during ischemia, regardless of physical cell damage.