Between-breed genetic variation for muscle and meat quality traits was determined at eight weeks of age in 34 lines of purebred commercial broiler and layer lines and traditional breeds (categories) of chickens. Between-breed genetic variation for plasma ion concentrations and element concentration in muscle dry matter and ash were determined. Plasma from broilers had higher concentrations of Na+, K+, Mg++, total and free Ca++ and lower free: total Ca++ than plasma from layer and traditional lines. Muscle from broilers contained more Na and higher concentrations of K, Mg and Ca per mg of ash but not of dry matter compared with layer and traditional lines. In comparison with layer and traditional lines, broiler genotypes were over three times heavier, their plasma creatine kinase activity (CK), a marker of muscle tissue damage, was higher, their breast muscle colour was lighter (L*) and less red (a*) and yellow (b*) in appearance, the initial and final pH of their muscles were lower, the pH change was higher and their breast muscle was more tender. Thus, genetic selection for broiler traits has markedly altered cation regulation in muscle cells and may be associated with changes in muscle cell function and the development of pathology and meat quality problems.