Although increasing attention has been paid to nutritional aspects in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), limited information is available regarding the prevalence and consequences of nutritional depletion in a random out-patient COPD population. We studied body composition in relation to respiratory and peripheral skeletal muscle function in 72 COPD patients (mean (SD) forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) 53 (15) % predicted), who came to the lung function laboratory for routine lung function measurements. Patients were characterized by the degree of body weight loss and fat-free mass depletion. According to this definition, 14% of the group suffered from both loss of body weight and depletion of fat-free mass, whereas 7% had one of these conditions. We found that tissue depletion was concomitant with lower values for respiratory and peripheral skeletal muscle strength (46.0 (27.2) vs 77.1 (29.8) kg), and a significantly lower transfer coefficient for carbon monoxide (KCO 64.9 (16.2) vs 81.9 (24.5) % pred). Stratification by KCO (< 60% vs > 80%) also revealed significantly lower values for fat-free mass and higher values for intrathoracic gas volumes, total lung capacity (TLC) and residual volume (RV) in the group with a KCO < 60% pred. Analysis of covariance, taking fat-free mass as covariate, indicated an independent contribution of KCO on maximal inspiratory mouth pressure (PImax) but not on peripheral skeletal muscle strength. It is concluded that a substantial number of COPD out-patients suffer from nutritional depletion, preferentially affecting peripheral skeletal muscle function.