Dietary restriction (DR), a moderate reduction in food intake, improves health during aging and extends life span across multiple species. Specific nutrients, rather than overall calories, mediate the effects of DR, with protein and specific amino acids (AAs) playing a key role. Modulations of single dietary AAs affect traits including growth, reproduction, physiology, health, and longevity in animals. Epidemiological data in humans also link the quality and quantity of dietary proteins to long-term health. Intricate nutrient-sensing pathways fine tune the metabolic responses to dietary AAs in a highly conserved manner. In turn, these metabolic responses can affect the onset of insulin resistance, obesity, neurodegenerative disease, and other age-related diseases. In this review we discuss how AA requirements are shaped and how ingested AAs regulate a spectrum of homeostatic processes. Finally, we highlight the resulting opportunity to develop nutritional strategies to improve human health during aging.