The body condition of adult sand martins during the breeding season and a sample of fledglings was investigated by carcass analysis and by examination of live birds in the field. Fat scoring of live individuals was a reliable predictor of an individual's lipid content in most instances. Body mass changes during breeding were related to changes in the size of birds' lipid reserves, pectoral muscle mass, body water, and to development of the reproductive system. In both males and females, reserve lipid declined between the onset of breeding and nestling rearing. Pre-breeding males had significantly greater pectoral muscle masses than did nestling rearing females. The potential significance of protein in pectoral muscles as an energy reserve during breeding was small compared with lipid reserves. By comparing potential energy reserves in body lipid and protein with daily energy expenditure, it was calculated that neither incubating nor nestling rearing adults could survive a day of normal activity without feeding. The selective premium on adults optimizing their use of time and energy for self-maintenance behaviour during breeding is therefore likely to be great.