Exposure to maternal over-nutrition in utero is linked with developmental programming of obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease in offspring, which may be exacerbated by postnatal high-fat (HF) diet. Skeletal muscle mitochondrial function contributes to substrate metabolism and is impaired in metabolic disease. We examined muscle mitochondrial respiration in male and female mice exposed to maternal HF diet in utero, followed by postweaning HF diet until middle age. After in utero exposure to maternal control (Con) or HF diet (45% kcal fat; 39.4% lard, 5.5% soybean oil), offspring were weaned to Con or HF, creating four groups: Con/Con (male/female (m/f), n=8/8), Con/HF (m/f, n=7/4), HF/Con (m/f, n=9/6) and HF/HF (m/f, n=4/4). Oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) and electron transfer system (ETS) capacity were measured in permeabilized gastrocnemius bundles. Maternal HF diet increased fasting glucose and lean body mass in males and body fat percentage in both sexes (P⩽0.05). Maximal adenosine diphosphate-stimulated respiration (complex I OXPHOS) was decreased by maternal HF diet in female offspring (−21%, P=0.053), but not in male (−0%, P>0.05). Sexually divergent responses were exacerbated in offspring weaned to HF diet. In females, OXPHOS capacity was lower (−28%, P=0.041) when weaned to high-fat (HF/HF) v. control diet (HF/Con). In males, OXPHOS (+33%, P=0.009) and ETS (+42%, P=0.016) capacity increased. Our data suggest that maternal lard-based HF diet, rich in saturated fat, affects offspring skeletal muscle respiration in a sex-dependent manner, and these differences are exacerbated by HF diet in adulthood.