Large organisms have higher metabolic rates than small organisms but, if we compare their relative metabolic rates (i.e. per gram of tissue), this relationship is very often reversed. The pervasiveness of this phenomenon, called metabolic scaling, has attracted several theoretical explanations, and also produced lingering debate over whether metabolic scaling is a physically constrained and universally constant phenomenon or a more variable and evolutionarily malleable trait. To bring novel insights to this debate, we manipulated male Gryllodes sigillatus crickets' coefficients of inbreeding to determine whether metabolic scaling is sensitive to the manipulation of genetic quality. Because inbreeding depression is inversely related to past selection, our results indicate that selection has favoured an overall lower metabolic rate and a less steep slope of metabolic scaling. Altered metabolic scaling as a result of inbreeding was found to be caused by increased variation in metabolic rate, suggesting the existence of balancing selection towards intermediate metabolic rates. Although we found effects of inbreeding on metabolic scaling, much of the relationship between body mass and metabolic rate remained unexplained, leaving plenty of room for speculation concerning the fixed constraints that might affect evolutionary trajectories. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 105, 309–317.