Metabolism is a complex phenotype shaped by natural environmental rhythms, as well as behavioral, morphological and physiological adaptations. Metabolism has been historically studied under constant environmental conditions, but new methods of continuous metabolic phenotyping now offer a window into organismal responses to dynamic environments, and enable identification of abiotic controls and the timing of physiological responses relative to environmental change. We used indirect calorimetry to characterize metabolic phenotypes of the desert-adapted cactus mouse (Peromyscus eremicus) in response to variable environmental conditions that mimic their native environment versus those recorded under constant warm and constant cool conditions, with a constant photoperiod and full access to resources. We found significant sexual dimorphism, with males being more prone to dehydration than females. Under circadian environmental variation, most metabolic shifts occurred prior to physical environmental change and the timing was disrupted under both constant treatments. The ratio of CO2 produced to O2 consumed (the respiratory quotient) reached greater than 1.0 only during the light phase under diurnally variable conditions, a pattern that strongly suggests that lipogenesis contributes to the production of energy and endogenous water. Our results are consistent with historical descriptions of circadian torpor in this species (torpid by day, active by night), but reject the hypothesis that torpor is initiated by food restriction or negative water balance.