Early embryo loss is the major cause of reproductive failure in cattle. The effect of short-term changes in energy intake pre- and post-insemination on embryo survival and systemic progesterone was investigated in heifers. Two pasture allowances (low, L and high, H) were calculated on a dry-matter basis to provide 0⋅8 and 2⋅0 times maintenance requirements, respectively. Following oestrous synchronization, heifers (no. = 296) were allocated to either L or H pasture allowance for a 10 day period before artificial insemination (AI). On the day after AI, heifers (no. = 247) were again randomly allocated to either the L or H pasture allowance until either embryo recovery between days 14 to 16 or pregnancy diagnosis at day 30 (AI = day 0). Hence, there were four nutrition treatments; L-L, L-H, H-H and H-L. Blood samples were collected on days 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the pre- and days 4, 5, 6, 7, 13 and 14 of the post-AI oestrous cycle (oestrus = day 0) for determination of plasma progesterone. Embryo survival rate was significantly lower in the H-L (0⋅38) than in the L-L (0⋅70), L-H (0⋅71; P < 0⋅001) or H-H (0⋅65; P < 0⋅01) treatment groups but there was no evidence that the detrimental effect of reduced energy intake after AI was mediated through changes in systemic progesterone.