The carry-over effect of a pre-starter diet (0 to 3 days of age) deficient in lysine on subsequent growth and body composition (3 to 10 days) was examined in two experiments on male broiler chicks raised in cages. In experiment 1, lysine deficiency was applied from 3 to 10 days after providing a balanced pre-starter control feed (D+, 1.40% lysine) or a lysine deficient feed (D−) during the first 3 days. Three levels of deficiency (A = 0.63%, B = 0.72%, C = 0.82%) were tested. Growth and feed intake were higher in D+ than in D− chicks ( P < 0.001). However, the feed conversion ratio from 3 to 10 days of age was higher in D+ chicks ( P < 0.001); pre-starter and starter feeds interacted ( P < 0.04) with the feed conversion of treatment D+/A = 2.07 being better than treatment D+/A = 2.61 ( P < 0.05). This suggests that chicks deficient from hatching exhibit a relatively lower sensitivity to lysine deficiency than chicks started on a control diet. In experiment 2, performance, slaughter parameters and body composition were analysed at 3 and 10 days of age, in chicks having received a lysine deficient feed (D0, 0.72% lysine), a control feed (D+, 1.40% lysine) or having been pair fed with control feed adjusted to D0 intake (PF) from 0 to 3 days of age, and then fed D0 ad libitum from 3 to 10 days of age. At 3 days, PF chicks had a higher body weight ( P < 0.05) than D0, and thus a better feed conversion. Body composition in relative values was little or not affected by dietary treatments, but the breast muscle weight at 3 days was higher in D+ and PF chicks compared with D0 ( P < 0.05) and this effect was even accentuated at 10 days of age. The present work confirms that early nutrition can have subsequent consequences on the adjustment of fast growing broiler chicks to their nutritional conditions. It also suggests that breast muscle development is a more reactive parameter than whole body composition in this kind of experiments.