The aim of this study was to evaluate whether the compensatory growth feeding strategy could be a suitable solution for overcoming the negative effects on growth, carcass composition and meat quality of low birth weight pigs. Forty-two Swiss Large White barrows from 21 litters were selected at weaning and categorized into either being light (L; >0.8 and <1.3 kg) or heavy (H; >1.7 kg) birth weight pigs. From 27.8 kg BW, pigs were assigned within birth weight group to one of three feeding groups: AA: ad libitum access to the grower and finisher diet, RR: restricted access to the grower and finisher diet or RA: restricted access to the grower diet and ad libitum access to the finisher diet. At slaughter, the longissimus (LM) and semitendinosus (STM) muscles were removed from the right side of the carcass. Weight, girth and length of the STM and the LM area were determined after muscle excision. Carcass characteristics and meat quality traits were assessed. Using mATPase histochemistry, myofibre size and myofibre type distribution were determined in the LM and STM. Because of longer days on feed, total feed intake was greater (P<0.01) and feed efficiency was lower (P<0.01) in L than H barrows. Regardless of the birth weight group, AA and RA barrows grew faster (P<0.05) than RR barrows. During the compensatory growth period, RA barrows grew faster (P<0.05) than AA or RR barrows. Growth efficiency did not differ between RA and RR barrows but was greater (P<0.05) compared with AA barrows. Carcasses of L barrows were fatter as indicated by the lower (P⩽≤0.05) lean meat and greater (P⩽0.02) omental and subcutaneous fat percentage. Lean meat percentage was lower (P⩽0.05) in AA and RA than RR barrows. These differences caused by ad libitum feed access tended to be greater (feeding regime × birth weight group interaction; P<0.08) in L than H barrows. In L barrows, slow oxidative, fast oxidative glycolytic and overall average myofibre size of the LM and the fast glycolytic myofibres and overall average myofibre size of the dark portion of the STM were larger (P⩽0.03) than in H barrows. The study revealed that the compensatory growth feeding strategy was inadequate in overcoming the disadvantages of low birth weight.