One of the reasons for animals not to grow as fast as they potentially could is that fast growth has been shown to be associated with reduced lifespan. However, we are still lacking a clear description of the reality of growth-dependent modulation of ageing mechanisms in wild animals. Using the particular growth trajectory of small king penguin chicks naturally exhibiting higher-than-normal growth rate to compensate for the winter break, we tested whether oxidative stress and telomere shortening are related to growth trajectories. Plasma antioxidant defences, oxidative damage levels and telomere length were measured at the beginning and at the end of the post-winter growth period in three groups of chicks (small chicks, which either passed away or survived the growth period, and large chicks). Small chicks that died early during the growth period had the highest level of oxidative damage and the shortest telomere lengths prior to death. Here, we show that small chicks that grew faster did it at the detriment of body maintenance mechanisms as shown by (i) higher oxidative damage and (ii) accelerated telomere loss. Our study provides the first evidence for a mechanistic link between growth and ageing rates under natural conditions.