The amount and the type of dietary protein could play a role in determining the quantity of skeletal muscle mass. The aim was to examine the relationship between the type of protein intake and the level of muscle mass in healthy omnivorous and vegetarian Caucasian women. The design of the present study was an observational and cross-sectional study. Twenty-one omnivores (Om) and nineteen vegetarians (Ve) were recruited. Muscle mass index (urinary creatinine), dietary intake (5 d dietary records) and biochemical analyses (hormone, phyto-oestrogen and lipid profiles) were obtained. We found differences between groups for muscle mass (Ve: 18 kg v. Om: 23 kg; P = 0.010), muscle mass index (Ve: 6.7 kg/m2 v. Om: 8.3 kg/m2; P = 0.002), animal protein intake in g/d (P = 0.001) and in g/kg body weight per d (P = 0.003), plant protein intake in g/d (P = 0.015) and in g/kg body weight per d (P = 0.007), the animal:plant protein intake ratio (P = 0.001) and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) (P = 0.001). Muscle mass index still correlated with animal protein intake in g/d (P = 0.001) and in g/kg body weight per d (P = 0.008), and the animal:plant protein intake ratio (P = 0.007) even after controlling for SHBG and plant protein intake. Finally, animal protein intake (g/d) was the independent predictor of muscle mass index (adjusted r2 0.42). Thus, a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower muscle mass index than is an omnivorous diet at the same protein intake. A good indicator of muscle mass index in women seems to be animal protein intake.