The present study determined whether α-ketoglutarate (AKG) might affect the expression of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and energy status in the intestinal mucosa of piglets challenged with Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS). A total of eighteen piglets (weaned at 21 d of age) were allocated to one of three treatments: (1) non-challenged (control); (2) LPS-challenged (LPS); (3) LPS+1 % AKG (LPS+AKG). Piglets in the control and LPS groups were fed a maize- and soyabean meal-based diet, and the LPS+AKG group was fed the basal diet supplemented with 1 % AKG. On days 10, 12, 14 and 16 of the trial, piglets in the LPS and LPS+AKG groups were challenged with LPS (80 μg/kg body weight), whereas piglets in the control group received the same volume of sterile saline. Pigs were euthanised 24 h after the last administration of LPS or saline to obtain intestinal mucosae for biochemical analysis. Compared with the control group, LPS administration decreased (P < 0·05) the oxidation of AKG, oleic acid, glutamine and glucose in enterocytes, decreased concentrations of ATP in the duodenal and jejunal mucosae and decreased adenylate energy charge (AMP:ATP ratio) in the jejunal and ileal mucosae. Additionally, LPS treatment reduced (P < 0·05) mucosal concentrations of phosphorylated AMPK in the jejunum and ileum as well as acetyl-CoA carboxylase in all segments of the small intestine. The adverse effects of LPS were reversed by AKG. Collectively, these results indicate that dietary supplementation with 1 % AKG beneficially modulates the AMPK signalling pathway to improve energy status in the small intestine of LPS-challenged piglets.