A description is given of a whole-body counting technique using radiotracers, permitting the determination of true absorption and endogenous excretion of trace elements and minerals in the rat in vivo. This non-invasive counting method involves oral and intraperitoneal administration of tracer doses of a radioisotope in a cross-over fashion and subsequent measurement of the whole-body retention in a whole-body counter. Thus, true absorption can be determined in one animal which contributes to the reduction of animal use. To study the variations in counting response due to radioisotope distribution, to size or shape of the animal body, the influence of the position of a point source and distribution over different phantoms to simulate various body sizes are experimentally evaluated for 64Cu, 65Zn, 59Fe and 28Mg. Results from 2 studies, with 64Cu and 28Mg, as an example for a trace element and a mineral respectively, are presented and illustrate that absorption as measured by apparent absorption does not necessarily reflect true absorption. True absorption as determined by the whole-body retention method using radioisotopes corrects for faecal losses of endogenous origin.