We conducted a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to elucidate the effects of dietary milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) on the physical performance of community-dwelling Japanese adults. For this 24-week study, 115 middle-aged subjects (range 50–70 years old) were invited, of whom 113 (seventy-two women, forty-one men) completed the trial. Participants were then divided into either the placebo control or MFGM group. Measurements of physical performance (without undertaking any mandatory exercise) examining muscle strength, agility and balance were tested every 6 weeks until 24 weeks. Analyses were performed using the intention-to-treat method for all participants. Although the effects of MFGM on muscle strength and agility were not significant, we noted that the parameter for balance (such as the ability to stand on one leg with eyes closed for longer durations) increased in the MFGM group (mean 10·1 (95 % CI 8·25, 12·4) s) compared with the placebo (mean 7·53 (95 % CI 6·11, 9·30) s) (P = 0·046). Similarly, application of the mixed-effect model for repeated measures under unstructured covariance also revealed that the effect of MFGM was significant when compared with the placebo (10·2 (95 % CI 8·33, 12·4) v. 7·61 (95 % CI 6·17, 9·30) s) (P = 0·045). In conclusion, we demonstrated that MFGM had an effect on the physical performance of community-dwelling Japanese adults despite mandatory exercise. However, studies using larger cohorts of individuals from different demographic backgrounds are required to further elucidate the mechanisms underlying these effects and to extend the application of MFGM.