Rates of energy expenditure (J/kg fat-free mass (FFM) per min) in normal weight, ‘small-eating’ men were compared with those obtained for normal weight (n 8) and underweight (n 5) ‘large-eating’ men. For the matched groups of ‘large-’ and ‘small-eaters’ there were no differences in resting metabolic rate (RMR) measurements but during controlled daily activities there was a small but significant increase (P < 0.05) in energy expenditure in the ‘large-eaters’. These results contrast with those obtained for the unmatched groups where energy requirements were about 10 % (P < 0.01) higher in the underweight ‘large-eaters’ at rest but were not different during the more energetic (walking) activities. However, after adjustment for differences in FFM between these two groups, the resting energy expenditures of the ‘large-eaters’ (82·54 (SE 1·51) J/kg FFM per min) were similar to those of the ‘small-eaters’ (81·87 (SE 1·51) J/kg FFM per min). Oral temperatures were significantly higher in the matched (0·35–0·65°) and unmatched (0·7–0·9°) ‘large-eaters’ both at rest and during the different activities, but the thermic effect of food (50 kJ/kg FFM) was one fifth lower (not significant) in both groups of ‘large-eaters’. These results provide little evidence for any major metabolic differences between groups of ‘large-eating’ and ‘small-eating’ men.