Understanding the costs of signals used in fights is the key to understanding decisions made by contestants. Hermit crabs use shell rapping. This is a clearly defined agonistic signal, which can be quantified in temporal terms and in the power of the key shell-rapping signal component. We examine the relationship between the power expended by attacking hermit crabs and their consequent lactate levels. High power expenditure over the whole fight leads to high lactate, and attackers give up when lactate is high. Some defenders give up early in fights, particularly if the power of raps in early bouts they receive is high. These defenders and those not allowed to fight have low glucose, but those that successfully resist eviction have high glucose. Glucose is mobilized in an attempt to resist; nevertheless, some defenders that attempt resistance are still evicted by persistent attackers. Thus, early power of the signal is a major determinant of success for attackers, albeit at a cost. These data show the link between power, repetition of a signal, metabolic consequences and decisions of contestants in fights. The different activities, decisions and costs of the two roles are not adequately described by existing models of contests.