The effects of incremental exercise on appetite, energy intake (EI), expenditure (EE) and balance (EB) in lean men and women were examined. Six men (age 29·7 (sd 5·9) years, weight 75·2 (sd 15·3) kg, height 1·75 (sd 0·11) m) and six women (age 24·7 (sd 5·9) years, weight 66·7 (sd 9·10) kg, height 1·70 (sd 0·09) m) were each studied three times during a 16 d protocol, corresponding to no additional exercise (Nex), moderate-intensity exercise (Mex; 1·5–2·0 MJ/d) and high-intensity exercise (Hex; 3·0–4·0 MJ/d) regimens. Subjects were fed to EB during days 1–2, and during days 3–16 they fed ad libitum from a medium-fat diet of constant composition. Daily EE, assessed using the doubly labelled water method, was 9·2, 11·6 and 13·7 MJ/d (P < 0·001; sed 0·45) for the women and 12·2, 14·0 and 16·7 MJ/d (P = 0·007; sed 1·11) for the men on the Nex, Mex and Hex treatments, respectively. EI was 8·3, 8·6 and 9·9 MJ/d (P = 0·118; sed 0·72) for the women and 10·6, 11·6 and 12·0 MJ/d (P = 0·031; sed 0·47) for the men, respectively. On average, subjects compensated for about 30 % of the exercise-induced energy deficit. However, the degree of compensation varied considerably among individuals. The present study captured the initial compensation in EI for exercise-induced energy deficits. Total compensation would take a matter of weeks.