A central principle in life-history theory is that reproductive effort negatively affects survival. Costs of reproduction are thought to be physiologically based, but the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Using female North American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), we test the hypothesis that energetic investment in reproduction overwhelms investment in antioxidant protection, leading to oxidative damage. In support of this hypothesis we found that the highest levels of plasma protein oxidative damage in squirrels occurred during the energetically demanding period of lactation. Moreover, plasma protein oxidative damage was also elevated in squirrels that expended the most energy and had the lowest antioxidant protection. Finally, we found that squirrels that were food-supplemented during lactation and winter had increased antioxidant protection and reduced plasma protein oxidative damage providing the first experimental evidence in the wild that access to abundant resources can reduce this physiological cost.