Adaptations in growth dynamics in fish, i.e. how fish prioritise tissue accretion between organs, remains poorly understood. In the present study, we investigated the effects of graded feed restriction levels on nutrient deposition in 1·3 g fingerlings and 70 g juveniles. At the whole-body level, highly restricted juveniles strove to maintain body protein while mobilising lipid reserves and compensating for mass loss by increasing water content. In contrast, fingerlings maintained body water and energy contents. Additionally, we investigated deposition patterns in four body compartments (red and white axial muscles, viscera and rest of the carcass) in juveniles and changes in the cellularity of the white and red muscles in fingerlings. We provide evidence of priorities in growth and nutrient deposition in body compartments in response to low feeding levels. In juveniles, feed intake (FI) primarily affected the white muscle, while the red muscle and the viscera appeared to be preserved. Specific proteins (45 and 173 kDa) were preferentially deposited in the white muscle, while others (22 and 32 kDa) were preferentially mobilised. In fingerlings' muscle anterior to the anus, the cross-sectional surface areas increased with increasing FI in a logarithmic fashion in the white muscle, and in linear fashion in the red muscle. The maximum diameter of white fibres decreased linearly with fish length, while that of red fibres remained stable. This suggests an adaptation mechanism by decreasing white muscle hyperplasia in favour of hypertrophy when feed is restricted. Overall, these results indicate some mechanisms by which fish cope with low food availability. Our findings also suggest different adaptation strategies employed by fish of different body weights.