n-3 PUFA are crucial for health and development. Their effects as regulators of lipid and glucose metabolism are well documented. They also appear to affect protein metabolism, especially by acting on insulin sensitivity. The aim of the present study was to investigate the role of n-3 PUFA, i.e. the precursor α-linolenic acid (ALA) 18 : 3n-3 or long-chain PUFA (LC-PUFA), in chickens, by focusing on their potential function as co-regulators of the insulin anabolic signalling cascade. Ross male broilers were divided into six dietary treatment groups. Diets were isoproteic (22 % crude protein) and isoenergetic (12·54 MJ metabolisable energy/kg) and contained similar lipid levels (6 %) provided by different proportions of various lipid sources: oleic sunflower oil rich in 18 : 1n-9 as control; fish oil rich in LC-PUFA; rapeseed and linseed oils providing ALA. The provision of diets enriched with n-3 PUFA, i.e. rich in LC-PUFA or in the precursor ALA, for 3 weeks improved the growth performance of chickens, whereas that of only the ALA diet enhanced the development of the pectoralis major muscle. At 23 d of age, we studied the insulin sensitivity of the pectoralis major muscle and liver of chickens after an intravenous injection of insulin or saline. The present results indicate that the activation patterns of n-3 PUFA are different in the liver and muscles. An ALA-enriched diet may improve insulin sensitivity in muscles, with greater activation of the insulin-induced 70 kDa ribosomal protein S6 kinase/ribosomal protein S6 pathway involved in the translation of mRNA into proteins, thereby potentially increasing muscle protein synthesis and growth. Our findings provide a basis on which to optimise dietary fatty acid provision in growing animals.