Cells constantly adapt their metabolism to meet their energy needs and respond to nutrient availability. Eukaryotes have evolved a very sophisticated system to sense low cellular ATP levels via the serine/threonine kinase AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) complex. Under conditions of low energy, AMPK phosphorylates specific enzymes and growth control nodes to increase ATP generation and decrease ATP consumption. The discovery of numerous new AMPK substrates has led to a more complete understanding of the minimal number of steps required to reprogramme cellular metabolism from anabolism to catabolism. This energy switch controls cell growth and several other cellular processes, including lipid and glucose metabolism and autophagy.