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In this paper, a channel-driven rate and power adaptation (CDRPA) algorithm is proposed for wireless local area networks (WLANs) in generalized Nakagami fading channels. Through the channel information of the first packet, the CDRPA algorithm can lower the complexity of comparing various rates and power levels. In the case of the IEEE 802.11 WLAN, the computation complexity of the CDRPA algorithms is reduced by more than 94% compared with the complete-search link adaptation. A physical and/or medium access control (MAC) cross-layer analytical model is also developed to evaluate the goodput and energy efficiency of the carrier sense multiple access with a collision avoidance MAC protocol in Nakagami fading channels. Our numerical results show that the CDRPA algorithm is not only more energy efficient in the Nakagami fading channel but can also achieve comparable and even higher throughput compared with the complete-search link adaptation approach.