The present study aimed to investigate whether arginine (Arg) promotes porcine type I muscle fibres formation via improving mitochondrial biogenesis. In the in vivo study, a total of sixty Duroc × Landrace × Yorkshire weaning piglets with an average body weight of 6·55 (sd 0·36) kg were randomly divided into four treatments and fed with a basal diet or a basal diet supplemented with 0·5, 1·0 and 1·5 % l-Arg, respectively, in a 4-week trial. Results showed that dietary supplementation of 1·0 % Arg significantly enhanced the activity of succinate dehydrogenase, up-regulated the protein expression of myosin heavy chain I (MyHC I) and increased the mRNA levels of MyHC I, troponin I1, C1 and T1 (Tnni1, Tnnc1 and Tnnt1) in longissimus dorsi muscle compared with the control group. In addition, ATPase staining analysis indicated that 1·0 % Arg supplementation significantly increased the number of type I muscle fibres and significantly decreased the number of type II muscle fibres. Furthermore, 1·0 % Arg supplementation significantly up-regulated PPAR-γ coactivator-1α (PGC-1α), sirtuin 1 and cytochrome c (Cytc) protein expressions, increased PGC-1α, nuclear respiratory factor 1 (NRF1), mitochondria transcription factor B1 (TFB1M), Cytc and ATP synthase subunit C1 (ATP5G) mRNA levels and increased mitochondrial DNA content. In the in vitro study, mitochondrial complex I inhibitor rotenone (Rot) was used. We found that Rot annulled Arg-induced type I muscle fibres formation. Together, our results provide for the first time the evidence that Arg promotes porcine type I muscle fibres formation through improvement of mitochondrial biogenesis.