We investigated the effect of relative changes in dietary nitrogen (N) and energy supply and the subsequent variations in net portal appearance (NPA) of nitrogenous and energy nutrients on the net amino acid (AA) uptake by the liver and net N supply to the peripheral tissues. Six lambs were catheterised across the splanchnic tissues and received, in a replicated Latin square, one of three dietary treatments. The diets were formulated to either match the requirements of N and energy (C), or supply only 0.8 of the N requirement (LN) or 0.8 of the energy requirement (LE). Net fluxes of AA and urea-N were measured across the portal-drained viscera, and estimation of arterial hepatic flow allowed the estimation of hepatic fluxes. Catheters were implanted into the portal and hepatic veins as well as in the abdominal aorta for the measurement of AA fluxes. Animals fed the LN diet showed more efficient N retention (0.59 of digested N) than did the C and LE diet (0.50 and 0.33, respectively; P < 0.001). The NPA of total AA-N for the LN diet was only 0.60 of the value measured for the control (C) diet (P < 0.01). Despite this, the total estimated AA-N net splanchnic fluxes were not significantly different across the three diets (3.3, 1.9 and 2.6 g total AA-N/day for C, LN and LE, respectively, P = 0.52). Thus, different metabolic regulations must have taken place across the liver between the three experimental diets. A combination of decreased net uptake of total AA-N by the liver of animals in the LN diet (0.61 of the C diet; P = 0.002) and reduced urinary urea-N production (0.52 of the C diet; P = 0.001) spared AA from catabolism in the LN diet relative to the other two diets. For the LE diet, the urinary urea-N output was 1.3 times the value of the C diet (P = 0.01). This may relate to an increased catabolism of AA by the muscle and/or, to a lesser extent, to an increased utilisation of AA for gluconeogenesis in the liver. These effects may explain the reduced whole body protein retention observed with the LE diet.