Prior studies suggest that estradiol and progesterone regulate body composition in growing female rats. Because these studies did not consider the confounding effect of changes in food intake, it remains unclear whether ovarian hormones regulate body composition independently of their effects on food intake. We utilized a pair-feeding paradigm to examine the effects of these hormones on body composition. In addition, skeletal muscle protein fractional synthesis rate and adipose tissue lipoprotein lipase activity were measured to examine pathways of substrate deposition into fat and fat-free tissue. Female Sprague-Dawley rats [pubertal: 7-8 wk old; 190 +/- 0.5 (SE) g] were separated into four groups: 1) sham-operated (S; n = 8), 2) ovariectomized plus placebo (OVX; n = 8), 3) ovariectomized plus estradiol (OVX+E; n = 8), and 4) ovariectomized plus progesterone (OVX+P; n = 8). All ovariectomized groups were pair-fed to the S group. Body composition was measured using total body electrical conductivity. The relative increase in fat-free mass was greater (P < 0.01) in the OVX group (31 +/- 2%) than in the S (17 +/- 2%), OVX+E (18 +/- 2%), and OVX+P (22 +/- 2%) groups. The fractional synthetic rates of gastrocnemius muscle protein paralleled changes in fat-free mass: OVX had a higher (P < 0.05) synthesis rate (21 +/- 3%/day) than S (12 +/- 2%/day), OVX+E (11 +/- 2%/day), and OVX+P (8 +/- 1%/day) groups. Body fat increased in the S group (31 +/- 7%; P < 0.01), whereas the OVX groups lost fat (OVX: -10 +/- 7%; OVX+E: -15 +/- 7%; OVX+P: -13 +/- 7%). No differences in lipoprotein lipase were found. Our results suggest that estradiol and progesterone may regulate the growth of fat and fat-free tissues in female rats. Moreover, ovarian hormones may influence skeletal muscle growth through their effects on skeletal muscle protein synthesis.