Many animals consume foods that vary in all 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, lipid, and protein. Yet most studies of diet regulation only consider pairs of nutrients (protein and carbohydrate or protein and lipid). Diet regulation also extends beyond nutrient and energy intake to include sources of energy expenditure, such as changes in activity level. We used a right-angled mixture triangle design to quantify the 3-dimensional intake target of fat-tailed dunnarts, Sminthopsis crassicaudata, and to test the consequences of free choice for energy intake, weight gain, and activity level relative to a standard maintenance diet. Dunnarts consistently preferred a relatively high-lipid, low-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet in 3 separate feeding experiments. Dunnarts also consumed a higher total energy intake during choice relative to no-choice periods. However, the weight of dunnarts was not consistently higher at the end of choice relative to no-choice periods, which is likely because dunnarts increased their activity level during periods of choice and decreased their activity when on no-choice diets. This shows that increases in the intake of lipid, which is an important component in the diet of dunnarts, does not necessarily lead to increases in weight gain because these animals can adjust energy expenditure to balance their energy budget. These results have important implications for the design of diets for animals in captivity and demonstrate that consideration of both energy intake and expenditure are needed for a more comprehensive and integrative understanding of diet regulation by animals.
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Vol. 97 • No. 6