Resting metabolic rate (RMR), thermic effect of a meal (TEM), and associated hormonal changes were studied in vegetarians and nonvegetarians. RMR was established by indirect calorimetry in 12 male vegetarians (VEG) and 11 nonvegetarians (NVEG) of similar body fat and aerobic fitness. Subjects ingested a liquid meal and TEM was measured for 180 min postprandially. Plasma concentrations of glucose, insulin and thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) were determined before and after meal ingestion. Absolute RMR was comparable between VEG and NVEG. However, TEM was lower (p less than 0.01) in VEG (55.8 +/- 3.3 kcal/180 min) vs NVEG (76.4 +/- 3.6). Plasma levels of glucose and insulin were similar between the two groups whereas plasma T3 was slightly but nonsignificantly lower in vegetarians. A vegetarian diet may decrease the postprandial thermic response; this does not support the supposition that an elevated TEM is a factor contributing to the lower body weight in vegetarians than in omnivores.