It is a desirable goal to stimulate fuel oxidation in adipocytes and shift the balance toward less fuel storage and more burning. To understand this regulatory process, respiration was measured in primary rat adipocytes, mitochondria, and fat-fed mice. Maximum O2 consumption, in vitro, was determined with a chemical uncoupler of oxidative phosphorylation (carbonylcyanide p-trifluoromethoxyphenylhydrazone (FCCP)). The adenosine triphosphate/adenosine diphosphate (ATP/ADP) ratio was measured by luminescence. Mitochondria were localized by confocal microscopy with MitoTracker Green and their membrane potential (ΔψM) measured using tetramethylrhodamine ethyl ester perchlorate (TMRE). The effect of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) on respiration and body composition in vivo was assessed in mice. Addition of FCCP collapsed ΔψM and decreased the ATP/ADP ratio. However, we demonstrated the same rate of adipocyte O2 consumption in the absence or presence of fuels and FCCP. Respiration was only stimulated when reactive oxygen species (ROS) were scavenged by pyruvate or NAC: other fuels or fuel combinations had little effect. Importantly, the ROS scavenging role of pyruvate was not affected by rotenone, an inhibitor of mitochondrial complex I. In addition, mice that consumed NAC exhibited increased O2 consumption and decreased body fat in vivo. These studies suggest for the first time that adipocyte O2 consumption may be inhibited by ROS, because pyruvate and NAC stimulated respiration. ROS inhibition of O2 consumption may explain the difficulty to identify effective strategies to increase fat burning in adipocytes. Stimulating fuel oxidation in adipocytes by decreasing ROS may provide a novel means to shift the balance from fuel storage to fuel burning.