Nutritional conditions during key periods of development, when the architecture and modus operandi of the body become established, are of profound importance in determining the subsequent life-history trajectory of an organism. If developing individuals experience a period of nutritional deficit, they can subsequently show accelerated growth should conditions improve, apparently compensating for the initial setback. However, recent research suggests that, although compensatory growth can bring quick benefits, it is also associated with a surprising variety of costs that are often not evident until much later in adult life. Clearly, the nature of these costs, the timescale over which they are incurred and the mechanisms underlying them will play a crucial role in determining compensatory strategies. Nonetheless, such effects remain poorly understood and largely neglected by ecologists and evolutionary biologists.