Root exudates play a major role in the mobilization of sparingly soluble nutrients in the rhizosphere. Since the amount and composition of major metabolites in root exudates from one plant species have not yet been systematically compared under different nutrient deficiencies, relations between exudation patterns and the type of nutrient being deficient remain poorly understood. Comparing root exudates from axenically grown maize plants exposed to N, K, P, or Fe deficiency showed a higher release of glutamate, glucose, ribitol, and citrate from Fe-deficient plants, while P deficiency stimulated the release of γ-aminobutyric acid and carbohydrates. Potassium-starved plants released less sugars, in particular glycerol, ribitol, fructose, and maltose, while under N deficiency lower amounts of amino acids were found in root exudates. Principal-component analysis revealed a clear separation in the variation of the root-exudate composition between Fe or P deficiency versus N or K deficiency in the first principal component, which explained 46% of the variation in the data. In addition, a negative correlation was found between the amounts of sugars, organic and amino acids released under deficiency of a certain nutrient and the diffusion coefficient of the respective nutrient in soils. We thus hypothesize that the release of dominant root exudates such as sugars, amino acids, and organic acids by roots may reflect an ancient strategy to cope with limiting nutrient supply.