To meet the protein and amino acid requirements of individuals and of populations requires information not only about their requirements but also about the capacity of available foods to meet those requirements. Most of our current knowledge of the digestibility of food proteins and the methods to estimate it has been derived from work with animals. Because the microbiota of the large intestine alter the amino acid composition of the digesta, and because only trivial quantities of amino acids are absorbed intact from the large intestine, the current method of choice for assessing amino acid digestibility is ileal digestibility corrected for basal endogenous losses, that is, standardized ileal digestibility. For protein as a whole, however, because nitrogen absorbed in forms other than as amino acids can contribute to the nitrogen economy, the absorption of nitrogen over the whole digestive tract is the more appropriate measure. Most of the methods developed for estimating ileal amino acid outflow in animals are not directly applicable to man: the exception is the use of volunteers with an ileostomy. The flow and composition of ileal digesta in human subjects can also be measured by the infusion of a marker and withdrawal of samples through a naso-intestinal tube. However, this method is too demanding for routine use and is likely to be restricted to validating the application to humans of digestibility data obtained either from animals, of which the pig seems most suitable, or in vitro methods. Microbial activity in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is not confined to the large intestine: the numbers and metabolic activity of the upper GI microbiota lead to substantial amounts of microbial protein leaving the ileum. It appears however that a large proportion of the amino acids used by the upper GI microbiota are preformed - from the diet or from endogenous materials - rather than from de novo synthesis. Although there are still uncertainties about the impact of microbial activity in the upper GI tract, the amino acid composition of ileal digesta provides the best available basis for estimating the proportion of dietary amino acids available for metabolism.