1. A study was conducted with modern broiler chicks to test the effects of early life protein nutrition and sex on responses in growth and body composition to dietary protein at a later age. Effects on the incidence of metabolic disorders were also evaluated. 2. From 11 to 26 d of age (EXP1), birds were given 8 diets varying in balanced protein to energy ratio (BPE ratio) between 0.575 and 1.100 g digestible lysine per MJ AMEn. Birds from two treatment groups in EXP1 (BPE ratio of 0.725 and 1.025 g/MJ, respectively) were subsequently used in a test from 26 to 41 d of age (EXP2). In EXP2, 8 diets were used, varying in BPE ratio between 0.500 and 1.025 g/MJ. 3. Responses in weight gain and feed conversion to BPE ratio in EXP2 changed considerably when BPE ratio in EXP1 was modified, irrespective of sex. Up to 10% improvement in both weight gain and feed conversion in EXP2 was observed if BPE ratio in EXP1 was 0.725 compared with 1.025 g/MJ. With males, however, the effect of treatment in EXP1 on weight gain in EXP2 was present only at high BPE ratios. 4. For the relative gain of breast meat and abdominal fat, but not for carcase, the responses of male broilers to BPE ratio in EXP2 were altered by the BPE ratio in EXP1. With females, responses in composition of the gain to diet in EXP2 were independent of BPE ratio in EXP1. 5. The incidence of metabolic disorders was low, irrespective of treatment in EXP1. The lower BPE ratio in EXP1 increased mortality in EXP2 from 0.8 to 3.6%. 6. Our findings show that broiler responses to dietary protein depend on previous protein nutrition and sex. Effects of early life protein nutrition on incidence of metabolic disorders were not observed. The results strongly suggest that protein levels in grower and finisher diets should not be optimised independently, but simultaneously.