The use of floral resources to improve the efficiency of natural enemies has grown in recent years, although their effect on pest populations has been overlooked. To understand how access to food resources by adults of Plutella xylostella (L.) (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae) affects their reproduction, the effects of amino acids and carbohydrates (i.e. fructose, glucose and sucrose) on the longevity, lifetime fecundity, egg viability and population growth of this important pest of brassicas are evaluated. Carbohydrate intake increases longevity, oviposition period and lifetime fecundity of P. xylostella. Oviposition period and fecundity are six-fold higher in females that consumed carbohydrates. By contrast, amino acid intake by adults does not affect reproductive parameters, even when mixed with carbohydrates. The estimated demographic parameters indicate that the adult diet is important for pest population growth because the net reproductive rate and the intrinsic rate of increase are higher when females have access to carbohydrates. These results are important from both physiological and ecological points of view. The increasing use of flowering plants as a microhabitat and food source for natural enemies may also result in benefits for herbivorous insects, compromising any success in pest control.