Reduced nitrogen species are key nutrients for biological productivity in the oceans. Ammonium is often present in low and growth-limiting concentrations, albeit peaks occur during collapse of algal blooms or via input from deep sea upwelling and riverine inflow. Autotrophic phytoplankton exploit ammonium peaks by storing nitrogen intracellularly. In contrast, the strategy of heterotrophic bacterioplankton to acquire ammonium is less well understood. This study revealed the marine bacterium Phaeobacter inhibens DSM 17395, a Roseobacter group member, to have already depleted the external ammonium when only ~1/3 of the ultimately attained biomass is formed. This was paralleled by a three-fold increase in cellular nitrogen levels and rapid buildup of various nitrogen-containing intracellular metabolites (and enzymes for their biosynthesis) and biopolymers (DNA, RNA and proteins). Moreover, nitrogen-rich cells secreted potential RTX proteins and the antibiotic tropodithietic acid, perhaps to competitively secure pulses of external ammonium and to protect themselves from predation. This complex response may ensure growing cells and their descendants exclusive provision with internal nitrogen stocks. This nutritional strategy appears prevalent also in other roseobacters from distant geographical provenances and could provide a new perspective on the distribution of reduced nitrogen in marine environments, i.e. temporary accumulation in bacterioplankton cells.