This study assessed the effects of meal volume (MV) and calorie load (CL) on gastric function. MRI and a minimally invasive fiber-optic recording system (FORS) provided simultaneous measurement of gastric volume and pressure changes during gastric filling and emptying of a liquid nutrient meal in physiological conditions. The gastric response to 12 iso-osmolar MV-CL combinations of a multinutrient drink (MV: 200, 400, 600, 800 ml; CL: 200, 300, 400 kcal) was tested in 16 healthy subjects according to a factorial design. Total gastric volume (TGV) and gastric content volume (GCV = MV + secretion) were measured by MRI during nasogastric meal infusion and gastric emptying over 60 min. Intragastric pressure was assessed at 1 Hz by FORS. The dynamic change in postprandial gastric volumes was described by a validated three-component linear exponential model. The stomach expanded with MV, but the ratio of GCV:MV at t(0) diminished with increasing MV (P < 0.01). Postprandial changes in TGV followed those of GCV. Intragastric pressure increased with MV, and this effect was augmented further by CL (P = 0.02); however, the absolute pressure rise was <4 mmHg. A further postprandial increase of gastric volumes was observed early on before any subsequent volume decrease. This "early" increase in GCV was greater for smaller than larger MV (P < 0.01), indicating faster initial gastric emptying of larger MV. In contrast, volume change during filling and in the early postprandial period were unaffected by CL. In the later postprandial period, gastric emptying rate continued to be more rapid with high MVs (P < 0.001); however, at any given volume, gastric emptying was slowed by higher CL (P < 0.001). GCV half-emptying time decreased with CL at 18 +/- 6 min for each additional 100-kcal load (P < 0.001). These findings indicate that gastric wall stress (passive strain and active tone) provides the driving force for gastric emptying, but distal resistance to gastric outflow regulates further passage of nutrients. The distinct early phase of gastric emptying with relatively rapid, uncontrolled passage of nutrients into the small bowel, modulated by meal volume but not nutrient composition, ensures that the delivery of nutrients in the later postprandial period is related to the overall calorie load of the meal.