Free-living animals often engage in behaviour that involves high rates of workload and results in high daily energy expenditure (DEE), such as reproduction. However, the evidence for elevated DEE accompanying reproduction remains equivocal. In fact, many studies have found no difference in DEE between reproducing and non-reproducing females. One of the hypotheses explaining the lack of difference is the concept of an ‘energetic ceiling’. However, it is unclear whether the lack of increase in energy expenditure is due to the existence of an energetic ceiling and/or compensation by males during parental care. To investigate whether an energetic ceiling exists, we experimentally manipulated foraging effort in captive zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, creating two groups with high and low foraging efforts followed by both groups breeding in the low foraging effort common garden condition. DEE was measured in both sexes throughout the experiment. We show sex-specific energy management strategies in response to training for increased foraging effort prior to reproduction. Specifically, males and females responded differently to the high foraging effort treatment and subsequently to chick rearing in terms of energy expenditure. Our results also suggest that there is an energetic ceiling in females and that energetic costs incurred prior to reproduction can be carried over into subsequent stages of reproduction in a sex-specific manner.