A feeding trial evaluated the influences of different cycles of starvation and refeeding protocols for 7 weeks on growth and feed intake in 14-g gilthead sea bream, Sparus aurata. Following 7 weeks of alternated cycles, all the groups were fed to apparent satiation for a further 3 weeks. Three groups of fish were fasted for 2, 4 or 7 days (S2, S4 and S7, respectively) and then refed until their relative feed intake differed by less than 20% of fed controls until the end of the week 7, while a fourth group (S7/Rf14) experienced three cycles, each consisting of 1 week of food deprivation followed by 2 weeks of satiation feeding. Control (C) fish were fed to satiation throughout the trial. The fish were fed a sea bream diet (450 g kg(-1) crude protein) according to the protocols, twice a day for 7 weeks. Growth performance and feed intake in continuously fed control group were significantly higher than those of the deprived groups (S2, S4, S7 and S7/Rf14) (P < 0.05). Weight gain highly correlated with total feed intake (R-2 = 94), and feed efficiency was the highest in the control group than other deprived groups (P < 0.05). The juveniles of gilthead sea bream demonstrated only a partial compensation during the cycling period and even after being fed to satiation for another 3 weeks. The convergence of growth trajectories and subsequent hyperphagic responses of the groups fed according to protocols are discussed in terms of possible costs of compensatory growth.