When animals engage in fights they face a series of decisions, which are based on the value of the contested resource and either their relative or their absolute fighting ability. Certain correlates of fighting ability or 'resource holding potential' such as body size are fixed but physiological correlates are expected to vary during the encounter. We examine the role of energy reserves in determining fight outcomes and parameters during 'shell fighting' in hermit crabs. During these fights, the two contestants perform very different roles of attacker and defender. We show that the balance of the total energy pool, in the form of glucose and glycogen, determines the ability of defenders to resist eviction from their shells. Low glucose in evicted defenders is not caused by depletion of energy reserves, rather mobilization of glycogen appears to be the result of a strategic decision about whether to resist effectively, based on the perceived fighting ability of the attacker. Attackers, however, always initiate the fight so such a decision for this role appears unlikely. In addition to influencing decisions and ability during fights, physiological correlates of fighting ability can in turn be influenced by strategic decisions.