Physical Activity Modifies the Association between Dietary Protein and Lean Mass of Postmenopausal Women

Jessica A. Martinez, Betsy C. Wertheim, Cynthia A. Thomson, Jennifer W. Bea, Robert Wallace, Matthew Allison, Linda Snetselaar, Zhao Chen, Rami Nassir, Patricia A. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background Maintenance of lean muscle mass and related strength is associated with lower risk for numerous chronic diseases of aging in women. Objective Our aim was to evaluate whether the association between dietary protein and lean mass differs by physical activity level, amino acid composition, and body mass index categories. Design We performed a cross-sectional analysis of a prospective cohort. Participants/setting Participants were postmenopausal women from the Women's Health Initiative with body composition measurements by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (n=8,298). Main outcome measures Our study measured percent lean mass, percent fat mass, and lean body mass index. Statistical analyses performed Linear regression models adjusted for scanner serial number, age, calibrated energy intake, race/ethnicity, neighborhood socioeconomic status, and recreational physical activity were used to determine the relationship between protein intake and body composition measures. Likelihood ratio tests and stratified analysis were used to investigate physical activity and body mass index as potential effect modifiers. Results Biomarker-calibrated protein intake was positively associated with percent lean mass; women in the highest protein quintile had 6.3 percentage points higher lean mass than the lowest quintile (P<0.001). This difference rose to 8.5 percentage points for physically active women in the highest protein quintile (Pinteraction=0.023). Percent fat mass and lean body mass index were both inversely related to protein intake (both P<0.001). Physical activity further reduced percent fat mass (Pinteraction=0.022) and lean body mass index (Pinteraction=0.011). Leucine intake was associated with lean mass, as were branched chain amino acids combined (both P<0.001), but not independent of total protein. All associations were observed for normal-weight, overweight, and obese women. Conclusions Protein consumption up to 2.02 g/kg body weight daily is positively associated with lean mass in postmenopausal women. Importantly, those that also engage in physical activity have the highest lean mass across body mass index categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-203.e1
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Dietary protein
  • Fat mass
  • Lean mass
  • Leucine
  • Physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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