The present study examined the underlying mechanisms by which whey protein isolate (WPI) affects energy balance. C57BL/6J mice were fed a diet containing 10 % energy from fat, 70 % energy from carbohydrate (35 % energy from sucrose) and 20 % energy from casein or WPI for 15 weeks. Mice fed with WPI had reduced weight gain, cumulative energy intake and dark-phase VO2 compared with casein-fed mice (P< 0·05); however, WPI intake had no significant effects on body composition, meal size/number, water intake or RER. Plasma levels of insulin, TAG, leptin, glucose and glucagon-like peptide 1 remained unchanged. Notably, the intake of WPI reduced stomach weight and both length and weight of the small intestine (P< 0·05). WPI intake reduced the gastric expression of Wingless/int-1 5a (Wnt5a) (P< 0·01) and frizzled 4 (Fzd4) (P< 0·01), with no change in the expression of receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor 2 (Ror2) and LDL receptor-related protein 5 (Lrp5). In the ileum, WPI increased the mRNA expression of Wnt5a (P< 0·01) and caused a trend towards an increase in the expression of Fzd4 (P= 0·094), with no change in the expression of Ror2 and Lrp5. These genes were unresponsive in the duodenum. Among the nutrient-responsive genes, WPI specifically reduced ileal mRNA expression of peptide YY (P< 0·01) and fatty acid transporter protein 4 (P< 0·05), and decreased duodenal mRNA expression of the insulin receptor (P= 0·05), with a trend towards a decreased expression of Na–glucose co-transporter 1 (P= 0·07). The effects of WPI on gastrointestinal Wnt signalling may explain how this protein affects gastrointestinal structure and function and, in turn, energy intake and balance.