In the present study, two experiments were conducted to (1) evaluate the effect of laminarin and/or fucoidan on ileal morphology, nutrient transporter gene expression and coefficient of total tract apparent digestibility (CTTAD) of nutrients and (2) determine whether laminarin inclusion could be used as an alternative to ZnO supplementation in weaned pig diets. Expt 1 was designed as a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement, comprising four dietary treatments (n 7 replicates, weaning age 24 d, live weight 6·9 kg). The dietary treatments were as follows: (1) basal diet; (2) basal diet+300 ppm laminarin; (3) basal diet+240 ppm fucoidan; (4) basal diet+300 ppm laminarin and 240 ppm fucoidan. There was an interaction between laminarin and fucoidan on the CTTAD of gross energy (GE) (P< 0·05) and the expression of sodium–glucose-linked transporter 1 (SGLT1/SLC5A1) and GLUT1/SLC2A1 and GLUT2/SLC2A2 (P< 0·05) in the ileum. The laminarin diet increased the CTTAD of GE and increased the expression of SGLT1, GLUT1 and GLUT2 compared with the basal diet. However, there was no effect of laminarin supplementation on these variables when combined with fucoidan. Expt 2 was designed as a complete randomised design (n 8 replicates/treatment, weaning age 24 d, live weight 7·0 kg), and the treatments were (1) basal diet, (2) basal diet and laminarin (300 ppm), and (3) basal diet and ZnO (3100 ppm, 0–14 d, and 2600 ppm, 15–32 d post-weaning). The laminarin diet increased average daily gain and gain:feed ratio compared with the basal diet during days 0–32 post-weaning (P< 0·01) and had an effect similar to the ZnO diet. These results demonstrate that laminarin provides a dietary means to improve gut health and growth performance post-weaning.