Plants modify metabolic processes for adaptation to low phosphate (P) conditions. Whilst transcriptomic analyses show that P deficiency changes hundreds of genes related to various metabolic processes, there is limited information available for global metabolite changes of P-deficient plants, especially for cereals. As changes in metabolites are the ultimate 'readout' of changes in gene expression, we profiled polar metabolites from both shoots and roots of P-deficient barley (Hordeum vulgare) using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The results showed that mildly P-deficient plants accumulated di- and trisaccharides (sucrose, maltose, raffinose and 6-kestose), especially in shoots. Severe P deficiency increased the levels of metabolites related to ammonium metabolism in addition to di- and trisaccharides, but reduced the levels of phosphorylated intermediates (glucose-6-P, fructose-6-P, inositol-1-P and glycerol-3-P) and organic acids (alpha-ketoglutarate, succinate, fumarate and malate). The results revealed that P-deficient plants modify carbohydrate metabolism initially to reduce P consumption, and salvage P from small P-containing metabolites when P deficiency is severe, which consequently reduced levels of organic acids in the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. The extent of the effect of severe P deficiency on ammonium metabolism was also revealed by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) quantitative analysis of free amino acids. A sharp increase in the concentrations of glutamine and asparagine was observed in both shoots and roots of severely P-deficient plants. Based on these data, a strategy for improving the ability of cereals to adapt to low P environments is proposed that involves alteration in partitioning of carbohydrates into organic acids and amino acids to enable more efficient utilization of carbon in P-deficient plants.