Type of feeding during early life influences growth trajectory and metabolic risk at later ages. Modifications in infant formula composition have led to evaluate their effects on growth and energetic efficiency (EE) compared with breast-feeding. Main goal was to analyse type of feeding potential effects during first months of life, plus its EE, on growth patterns in healthy formula fed (standard infant formula (SF) vs. experimental infant formula enriched with bioactive nutrients (EF)) and breastfed (BF) infants participating in the COGNIS RCT (http://www.ClinicalTrials.gov, Identifier: NCT02094547) up to 18 months of age. Infants follow-up to 18 months of age (n 141) fed with a SF (n 48), EF(n 56), or BF (n 37), were assessed for growth parameters using WHO standards. Growth velocity (GV) and catch-up were calculated to identify growth patterns. EE of breast milk/infant formula was also estimated. Infants’ growth at 6 months showed higher length and lower head circumference gains in SF and EF infants than BF infants. Both weight-for-length and weight-for-age catch-up growth showed significant differences in formula fed groups compared with the BF. No significant differences in GV or catch-up were found at 6–12 and 12–18 months. Regarding EE, infant formula groups showed significantly lower weight and length gains/g of milk protein, and higher weight and length gains/g of milk lipids, than the BF infants. GV during first 6 months, which may be influenced by feeding, seems to be the main predictor of subsequent growth trajectory. Breast-feeding may have positive effects on growth programming due to its nutrients’ EE.