Here we analyze the outcomes of unlimited access to a low-energy (LE) diet in dams and their offspring. At 3 weeks’ gestation, pregnant Wistar rats were divided into two groups: (1) the control group received a normoenergetic diet; and (2) the experimental group received the LE diet. In dams, lactation outcomes, food intake, body weight, plasma IGF-1, prealbumin, transferrin and retinol-binding protein levels were evaluated; in offspring, biometric and biochemical parameters and food intake were evaluated. No differences were observed during pregnancy. However, after lactation, dams that received the LE diet demonstrated significant reductions in body weight (P<0.05), plasma IGF-1 (P=0.01), prealbumin and visceral fat (P<0.001). Pups born to dams that received the LE diet demonstrated reduced body length and weight at weaning (P<0.001) and were lighter than the control animals at the end of the experimental period. Pups also demonstrated reduced plasma, low-density lipoprotein (P=0.04), triglycerides (P=0.002) and glucose levels (P<0.05), and differences were noted in visceral fat. These results indicate that feeding dams with LE diet during the reproductive period induces acute malnutrition and impairs the growth and development of offspring, as well as certain metabolic parameters.