To investigate the short-term consequences of direct competition between beech and sycamore maple on root N uptake and N composition, mycorrhizal seedlings of both tree species were incubated for 4 days (i.e. beech only, sycamore maple only or both together) in an artificial nutrient solution with low N availability. On the fourth day, N uptake experiments were conducted to study the effects of competition on inorganic and organic N uptake. For this purpose, multiple N sources were applied with a single label. Furthermore, fine roots were sampled and analysed for total amino acids, soluble protein, total nitrogen, nitrate and ammonium content. Our results clearly show that both tree species were able to use inorganic and organic N sources. Uptake of inorganic and organic N by beech roots was negatively affected in the presence of the competing tree species. In contrast, the presence of beech stimulated inorganic N uptake by sycamore maple roots. Both the negative effect of sycamore maple on N uptake of beech and the positive effect of beech on N uptake of sycamore maple led to an increase in root soluble protein in beech, despite an overall decrease in total N concentration. Thus, beech compensated for the negative effects of the tree competitor on N uptake by incorporating less N into structural N components, but otherwise exhibited the same strategy as the competitor, namely, enhancing soluble protein levels in roots when grown under competition. It is speculated that enhanced enzyme activities of so far unknown nature are required in beech as a defence response to inter-specific competition.