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

Published:November 30, 2016DOI:



      Maintenance of lean muscle mass and related strength is associated with lower risk for numerous chronic diseases of aging in women.


      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.


      We performed a cross-sectional analysis of a prospective cohort.


      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.


      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.


      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.


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      J. A. Martinez is an assistant research professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Arizona Cancer Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.


      B. C. Wertheim is an assistant scientific investigator, University of Arizona Cancer Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.


      C. A. Thomson is a professor, Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson.


      Z. Chen is a professor and chair, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson.


      J. W. Bea is an assistant professor, Department of Medicine, and assistant research scientist, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Arizona Cancer Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.


      R. Wallace is a professor, Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa, Iowa City.


      L. Snetselaar is a professor, Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa, Iowa City.


      M. Allison is a professor, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego.


      R. Nassir is an assistant professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of California, Davis.


      P. A. Thompson is a professor, Department of Pathology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY.