Energy balance (energy intake-energy expenditure) is known to vary considerably on a day-to-day basis in free-living individuals. The extent to which stores of protein, carbohydrate, and fat are used to store short-term surpluses of energy and the extent to which these stores are used to make up temporary energy deficits are incompletely known. We have measured body energy balance as well as carbohydrate, fat, and protein balances in 27 Caucasian men and 27 Caucasian women over a 24-h period in a respiratory chamber. An estimated weight-maintenance diet was fed to each subject. Because of individual differences in family background, body composition, activity, and the failure of some subjects to eat all of their food, these estimates are not exact, and energy balance is rarely achieved. Energy balance was correlated with fat balance in men (r = 0.79, P less than 0.0001) and women (r = 0.72, P less than 0.0001), and the slope of this relationship was not distinguishable from unity in men (1.16 +/- 0.18) or women (0.80 +/- 0.15). There were no correlations between energy balance and either carbohydrate or protein balances. This study demonstrates that carbohydrate and protein stores are closely regulated by adjusting oxidation to intake. Thus fat, rather than carbohydrate or protein, is almost exclusively used or stored in response to day-to-day fluctuations in energy balance.