Background: Zambia is a sub-Saharan country with one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV, currently estimated at 14%. Poor nutritional status due to both protein-energy and micronutrient malnutrition has worsened this situation. In an attempt to address this combined problem, the government has instigated a number of strategies, including the provision of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment coupled with the promotion of good nutrition. High-energy protein supplement (HEPS) is particularly promoted; however, the impact of this food supplement on the nutritional status of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) beyond weight gain has not been assessed. Techniques for the assessment of nutritional status utilising objective measures of body composition are not commonly available in Zambia. The aim of this study is therefore to assess the impact of a food supplement on nutritional status using a comprehensive anthropometric protocol including measures of skinfold thickness and circumferences, plus the criterion deuterium dilution technique to assess total body water (TBW) and derive fat-free mass (FFM) and fat mass (FM). Methods/Design. This community-based controlled and longitudinal study aims to recruit 200 HIV-infected females commencing ARV treatment at two clinics in Lusaka, Zambia. Data will be collected at four time points: baseline, 4-month, 8-month and 12-month follow-up visits. Outcome measures to be assessed include body height and weight, body mass index (BMI), body composition, CD4, viral load and micronutrient status. Discussion. This protocol describes a study that will provide a longitudinal assessment of the impact of a food supplement on the nutritional status of HIV-infected females initiating ARVs using a range of anthropometric and body composition assessment techniques. Trial Registration. Pan African Clinical Trial Registry PACTR201108000303396.