The objectives of the study were to determine: (1) daily energy expenditure (EE) of athletic and non-athletic adolescents of both sexes in free-living conditions; (2) day-to-day variations in daily EE during 1 week; (3) energy costs of the main activities; and (4) the effect of usual activity on EE during sleep, seated and miscellaneous activities. Fifty adolescents (four groups of eleven to fifteen boys or girls aged 16–19 years) participated in the study. Body composition was measured by the skinfold-thickness method, and VO2max and external mechanical power (EMP) by a direct method (respiratory gas exchanges) on a cycloergometer. Daily EE and partial EE in free-living conditions were computed from heart-rate (HR) recordings during seven consecutive days using individual prediction equations established from the data obtained during a 24 h period spent in whole-body calorimeters with similar activities. Fat-free mass (FFM), VO2max, EMP, daily EE and EE during sleep were significantly higher in athletic than in non-athletic subjects. After adjustment for FFM, VO2max, EMP, daily EE and EE during exercise were still higher in athletic than in non-athletic adolescents (P<0·001). However, adjusted sleeping EE was not significantly different between athletic and non-athletic adolescents. Increases in exercise EE were partly compensated for by significant reductions in EE during schoolwork and miscellaneous activities. Thus, the differences in daily EE between athletic and non-athletic subjects resulted mainly from increases in FFM and EE during exercise (duration and energy cost).