BACKGROUND: We undertook this study to investigate the association of a genetic polymorphism of the insulin-like growth factor, IGF-I(189), on body composition, exercise performance and exercise economy, after controlling for the independent effect of race as assessed by African genetic admixture (AFADM). METHODS: A total of 114 premenopausal sedentary women were genotyped for IGF-I189, obtaining measures of fat mass, lean body mass, VO2 during cycling and stairclimbing, time on treadmill and leg strength. A quantitative value for AFADM was derived from genotypic information of approximately 40 ancestry informative markers and used as covariate in statistical models. RESULTS: After adjusting for AFADM, IGF-I189 was negatively associated with lean body mass (p = 0.029) and lean leg mass (p = 0.050). Leg strength was not associated with the presence/absence of IGF-I189 (p = 0.380), but carriers of the allele demonstrated a longer time on the treadmill (p = 0.015) after adjusting for AFADM. There was also a negative relationship between oxygen uptake during cycling and presence of the IGF-I189 independent of AFADM (p = 0.010). CONCLUSIONS: Independent of AFADM, individuals with IGF-I189 are more likely to have low leg lean mass and to perform better in activities requiring exercise economy and endurance performance.