The effect of the type of non-protein energy (NPE) on energy utilisation in Nile tilapia was studied, focusing on digestible energy utilisation for growth (kgDE). Furthermore, literature data on kgDE across fish species were analysed in order to evaluate the effect of dietary macronutrient composition. A total of twelve groups of fish were assigned in a 2 × 2 factorial design: two diets (‘fat’ v. ‘starch’) and two feeding levels (‘low’ v. ‘high’). In the ‘fat’-diet, 125 g fish oil and in the ‘starch’-diet 300 g maize starch were added to 875 g of an identical basal mixture. Fish were fed restrictively one of two ration levels (‘low’ or ‘high’) for estimating kgDE. Nutrient digestibility, N and energy balances were measured. For estimating kgDE, data of the present study were combined with previous data of Nile tilapia fed similar diets to satiation. The type of NPE affected kgDE (0·561 and 0·663 with the ‘starch’ and ‘fat’-diets, respectively; P < 0·001). Across fish species, literature values of kgDE range from 0·31 to 0·82. Variability in kgDE was related to dietary macronutrient composition, the trophic level of the fish species and the composition of growth (fat:protein gain ratio). The across-species comparison suggested that the relationships of kgDE with trophic level and with growth composition were predominantly induced by dietary macronutrient composition. Reported kgDE values increased linearly with increasing dietary fat content and decreasing dietary carbohydrate content. In contrast, kgDE related curvilinearly to dietary crude protein content. In conclusion, energy utilisation for growth is influenced by dietary macronutrient composition.