ABSTRACT Heat stress can impact crop development and yield and amino acids play diverse essential roles in plants. This work aimed to study the long-term effects of foliar spray with L-arginine in antioxidant machinery, physiology, nutrition, productivity and fruit quality of tomato plants subjected to transient heat stresses. Six concentrations of L-arginine were sprayed on the plants: 0 (control), 0.10, 0.25, 0.50, 1.0 and 2.0 g·L–1. The content of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a reactive oxygen species, decreased concurrently to the increasing arginine concentration. The ascorbate peroxide (APX) activity had an inverse behavior to that observed for H2O2 content (r = –0.79), not only indicating that arginine is able to modulate APX, but also suggesting that this enzyme plays an important role on the mitigation of H2O2 generation under heat stress. Ascorbate peroxide and catalase (CAT) activities had a positive correlation (r = 0.82), showing that these enzymes may work in tandem. The influence of arginine on photosynthesis activity and gas exchange was generally weak and depended mainly on the plant developmental stage. Yield was increased by 19.8 and 23.1% in plants that received 1.0 and 0.5 g·L–1 of arginine, respectively, when compared to control plants. In conclusion, the use of exogenous L-arginine can protect tomato plants against oxidative imbalance under transient heat within protected environments.