OBJECTIVE To compare oxandrolone (OX) or strength training with nutrition alone (NA) for AIDS wasting. SUBJECTS Fifty patients with AIDS; 47 completing the study. INTERVENTIONS Randomization to (1) NA with placebo pills, (2) nutrition with 10 mg of OX administered orally twice a day, or (3) nutrition with progressive resistance training (PRT) for 12 weeks. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Midthigh cross-sectional muscle area (CSMA), physical functioning (PF), costs, and cost-effectiveness in dollars/quality-adjusted life-years (dollars/QALYs). RESULTS The OX and PRT subjects had increases in CSMA (7.0% +/- 2.5%, P = 0.01; 5.0% +/- 2.0%, P = 0.04, respectively), although these increases did not differ significantly from the NA arm (NA: 1.0% +/- 1.0%; OX vs. NA: P = 0.09; PRT vs. NA: P = 0.26). Only PRT caused significant improvements in PF (mean +/- SE: 10.4 +/- 3.8 points on a 100-point scale) and 7 measures of strength (P values: 0.04 to <0.001). There were no overall differences between groups in PF change. Among patients with impaired baseline PF, however, OX was significantly less effective than NA and PRT was significantly better than NA. All treatments led to increases in protein intake and performance; NA and PRT also increased caloric intake. The institutional costs per subject in this trial were 983 dollars for NA, 3772 dollars for OX, and 3189 dollars for PRT. At a community-based level of intensity, the institutional costs per QALY were 45,000 dollars (range: 42,000 dollars-64,000 dollars) for NA, 147,000 dollars (range: 147,000 dollars-163,000 dollars) for OX, and 31,000 dollars (range: 21,000 dollars-44,000 dollars) for PRT. CONCLUSIONS OX and PRT induce similar improvements in body composition, but PRT improves quality of life more than nutrition or OX, particularly among patients with impaired PF. PRT was the most cost-effective intervention, and OX was the least cost-effective intervention.