The dissolved organic carbon (DOC) pool is composed of several organic carbon compounds from different carbon sources. Each of these sources may support different bacterial growth rates, but few studies have specifically analyzed the effects of the combination of different carbon sources on bacterial metabolism. In this study, we evaluated the response of several metabolic parameters, including bacterial biomass production (BP), bacterial respiration (BR), bacterial growth efficiency (BGE), and bacterial community structure, on the presence of three DOC sources alone and in combination. We hypothesized that the mixture of different DOC sources would increase the efficiency of carbon use by bacteria (BGE). We established a full-factorial substitutive design (seven treatments) in which the effects of the number and identity of DOC sources on bacterial metabolism were evaluated. We calculated the expected metabolic rates of the combined DOC treatments based on the single-DOC treatments and observed a positive interaction on BP, a negative interaction on BR, and, consequently, a positive interaction on BGE for the combinations. The bacterial community composition appeared to have a minor impact on differences in bacterial metabolism among the treatments. Our data indicate that mixtures of DOC sources result in a more efficient biological use of carbon. This study provides strong evidence that the mixture of different DOC sources is a key factor affecting the role of bacteria in the carbon flux of aquatic ecosystems. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.