Cardiac power output (CPO) is an integrative measure of overall cardiac function as it accounts for both, flow- and pressure-generating capacities of the heart. The purpose of the present study was twofold: (i) to assess cardiac power output and its response to exercise in athletes and non-athletes and (ii) to determine the relationship between cardiac power output and reserve and selected measures of cardiac function and structure. Twenty male athletes and 32 age- and gender-matched healthy sedentary controls participated in this study. CPO was calculated as the product of cardiac output and mean arterial pressure, expressed in watts. Measures of hemodynamic status, cardiac structure and pumping capability were assessed by echocardiography. CPO was assessed at rest and after peak bicycle exercise. At rest, the two groups had similar values of cardiac power output (1·08 ± 0·2 W versus 1·1 ± 0·24 W, P>0·05), but the athletes demonstrated lower systolic blood pressure (109·5 ± 6·2 mmHg versus 117·2 ± 8·2 mmHg, P<0·05) and thicker posterior wall of the left ventricle (9·8 ± 1 mm versus 9 ± 1·1 mm, P<0·05). Peak CPO was higher in athletes (5·87 ± 0·75 W versus 5·4 ± 0·69 W, P<0·05) as was cardiac reserve (4·92 ± 0·66 W versus 4·26 ± 0·61 W, P<0·05), respectively. Peak exercise CPO and reserve were only moderately correlated with end-diastolic volume (r = 0·54; r = 0·46, P<0·05) and end-diastolic left ventricular internal diameter (r = 0·48; r = 0·42, P<0·05), respectively. Athletes demonstrated greater maximal cardiac pumping capability and reserve than non-athletes. The study provides new evidence that resting measures of cardiac structure and function need to be considered with caution in interpretation of maximal cardiac performance.