The difference in isotopic composition between a consumer's tissues and that of its diet is a critical aspect of the use of stable isotope analyses in ecological and palaeoecological studies. In a controlled feeding experiment with the Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, we demonstrate for the first time that the value of tissue-diet isotope spacing in nitrogen in a growing animal is not constant, but varies inversely with growth rate. The value of tissue-diet isotopic spacing in N reflects N use efficiency. Thus, in salmon, growth rate is accompanied by, or requires, increased N use efficiency. The total range in tissue-diet isotopic spacing in N seen in the experimental population of 25 fish was 1‰, approximately 50% of the total trophic shift. Mean equilibrium tissue-diet isotopic spacing (±standard deviation) in salmon averaged 2.3‰ (±0.3‰) and 0.0‰ (±0.3‰) for N in muscle and liver, respectively, and 2.1‰ (±0.1‰) and 1.6‰ (±0.3‰) for C in muscle and liver, respectively. Feeding with a mixed dietary source (wheat and fish-meal origin) resulted in tissue-diet isotopic fractionation in both C and N due to the differential digestibility of food components with distinct isotopic composition. The rate of change in isotopic composition of S. salar tissues was dominated by growth, but the estimated contribution of metabolic turnover to change in tissue N was relatively high for an ectothermic animal at ca. 20–40%. The estimated half-life for metabolic turnover of the tissue N pool was ca. 4 months in both muscle and liver tissue. This is the first study to demonstrate a direct relationship between tissue-diet isotopic spacing in N and growth rate and adds to the growing list of factors known to influence the level of isotopic separation between a consumer's tissue and that of its diet. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.