It is hypothesised that during immune system activation, there is a competition for amino acids (AA) between body protein deposition and immune system functioning. The aim of the present study was to quantify the effect of immune system activation on N retention and AA metabolism in growing pigs, depending on dietary protein supply. A total of sixteen barrows received an adequate (Ad) or restricted (Res) amount of dietary protein, and were challenged at day 0 with intravenous complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA). At days − 5, 3 and 8, an irreversible loss rate (ILR) of eight AA was determined. CFA successfully activated the immune system, as indicated by a 2- to 4-fold increase in serum concentrations of acute-phase proteins (APP). Pre-challenge C-reactive protein concentrations were lower (P< 0·05) and pre- and post-challenge albumin tended to be lower in Res-pigs. These findings indicate that a restricted protein supply can limit the acute-phase response. CFA increased urinary N losses (P= 0·04) and tended to reduce N retention in Ad-pigs, but not in Res-pigs (P= 0·07). The ILR for Val was lower (P= 0·05) at day 8 than at day 3 in the post-challenge period. The ILR of most AA, except for Trp, were strongly affected by dietary protein supply and positively correlated with N retention. The correlations between the ILR and APP indices were absent or negative, indicating that changes in AA utilisation for APP synthesis were either not substantial or more likely outweighed by a decrease in muscle protein synthesis during immune system activation in growing pigs.