Before predictable periods of high nutritional demand and little or no intake, vertebrates store fuel mainly composed of energy–dense lipids or energy–poor but protein–rich muscle tissue. Documenting contrasts in fuel composition and storage patterns within species, or even within individuals, would greatly help to elucidate the functional significance of the variety of storage strategies demonstrated in birds. We show here that the 40–50 g mass gain of 200 g in Eurasian golden plovers (Pluvialis apricaria) in autumn in The Netherlands consists of fat only, but that the similar gain in body mass in spring consists of proteinaceous tissue (pectoral and other skeletal muscle and possibly skin tissue). That the same golden plovers store energy in autumn and store protein in spring suggests that they face energy deficits in early winter and risk protein deficits in spring, especially perhaps after arrival on the breeding grounds in late April and early May. In autumn and winter their diet consists largely of protein–rich earthworms, but upon arrival on Low Arctic and montane tundras, golden plovers tend to eat berries which are rich in sugars but notably poor in proteins. We therefore propose that the build-up of proteinaceous tissue in spring reflects a strategic storage of a nutritional resource that is likely to be in short supply somewhat later in the year.