Favourable body composition has been associated with higher dietary protein intake. However, little is known regarding this relationship in a population of Chinese Americans (CHA), who have lower BMI compared with other populations. The aim of the present study was to assess the relationship between dietary protein intake, fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM) in CHA. Data were from the Chinese American Cardiovascular Health Assessment (CHA CHA) 2010–2011 (n 1707); dietary intake was assessed using an adapted and validated FFQ. Body composition was assessed using bioelectrical impedance analysis. The associations between protein intake (% energy intake) and BMI, percentage FM (FM%), percentage FFM (FFM%), FM index (FMI) and FFM index (FFMI) were examined using multiple linear regression adjusted for age, sex, physical activity, acculturation, total energy intake, sedentary time, smoking status, education, employment and income. There was a significant positive association between dietary protein and BMI (B = 0·056, 95 % CI 0·017, 0·104; P = 0·005), FM (B = 0·106, 95 % CI 0·029, 0·184; P = 0·007), FM% (B = 0·112, 95 % CI 0·031, 0·194; P = 0·007) and FMI (B = 0·045, 95 % CI 0·016, 0·073; P = 0·002). There was a significant negative association between dietary protein and FFM% (B = −0·116, 95 % CI −0·196, −0·036; P = 0·004). In conclusion, higher dietary protein intake was associated with higher adiposity; however, absolute FFM and FFMI were not associated with dietary protein intake. Future work examining the relationship between protein source (i.e. animal) and body composition is warranted in this population of CHA.