G551D, a mutation of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, results in impaired chloride channel function in cystic fibrosis (CF) with multiple end-organ manifestations. The effect of ivacaftor, a CFTR-potentiator, on exercise capacity in CF is unknown. Twenty G551D-CF patients were recruited to a single-centre, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 28-day crossover study of ivacaftor. Variables measured included percentage change from baseline (%Δ) of VO2max (maximal oxygen consumption, primary outcome) during cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET), relevant other CPET physiological variables, lung function, body mass index (BMI), sweat chloride and disease-specific health related quality of life (QOL) measures (CFQ-R and Alfred Wellness (AWEscore)). %ΔVO2max was unchanged compared with placebo as was %Δminute ventilation. However, %Δexercise time (mean 7.3, CI 0.5–14,1, P=0.0222) significantly increased as did %ΔFEV1 (11.7%, range 5.3–18.1, P<0·005) and %ΔBMI (1.2%, range 0.1–2.3, P=0·0393) whereas sweat chloride decreased (mean −43.4; range −55.5–18.1 mmol·l−1, P<0·005). Total and activity based domains in both CFQ-R and AWEscore also increased. A positive treatment effect on spirometry, BMI (increased), SCT (decreased) and total and activity based CF-specific QOL measures was expected. However, the lack of discernible improvement in VO2max and VE despite other positive changes including spirometric lung function and exercise time with a 28-day ivacaftor intervention suggests that ventilatory parameters are not the sole driver of change in exercise capacity in this study cohort. Investigation over a more prolonged period may delineate the potential interdependencies of the observed discordances over time. Trial registration number: ClinicalTrials.gov-NCT01937325.