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1. Adaptive trade-offs are fundamental to the evolution of diversity and the coexistence of similar taxa and occur when complimentary combinations of traits maximize efficiency of resource exploitation or survival at different points on environmental gradients.2. Standard metabolic rate (SMR) is a key physiological trait that reflects adaptations to baseline metabolic performance, whereas active metabolism reflects adaptations to variable metabolic output associated with performance related to foraging, predator avoidance, aggressive interactions or migratory movements. Benefits of high SMR and active metabolism may change along a resource (productivity) gradient, indicating that a trade-off exists among active metabolism, resting metabolism and energy intake.3. We measured and compared SMR, maximal metabolic rate (MMR), aerobic scope (AS), swim performance (UCrit) and growth of juvenile hatchery and wild steelhead and coho salmon held on high- and low-food rations in order to better understand the potential significance of variation in SMR to growth, differentiation between species, and patterns of habitat use along a productivity gradient.4. We found that differences in SMR, MMR, AS, swim performance and growth rate between steelhead trout and coho salmon were reduced in hatchery-reared fish compared with wild fish. Wild steelhead had a higher MMR, AS, swim performance and growth rate than wild coho, but adaptations between species do not appear to involve differences in SMR or to trade-off increased growth rate against lower swim performance, as commonly observed for high-growth strains. Instead, we hypothesize that wild steelhead may be trading off higher growth rate for lower food consumption efficiency, similar to strategies adopted by anadromous vs. resident brook trout and Atlantic salmon vs. brook trout. This highlights potential differences in food consumption and digestion strategies as cryptic adaptations ecologically differentiating salmonid species.5. We hypothesize that divergent digestive strategies, which are common and well documented among terrestrial vertebrates, may be an important but overlooked aspect of adaptive strategies of juvenile salmonids, and fish in general.