Eukaryotic cells coordinate growth with the availability of nutrients through the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), a master growth regulator. Leucine is of particular importance and activates mTORC1 via the Rag guanosine triphosphatases and their regulators GATOR1 and GATOR2. Sestrin2 interacts with GATOR2 and is a leucine sensor. Here we present the 2.7 angstrom crystal structure of Sestrin2 in complex with leucine. Leucine binds through a single pocket that coordinates its charged functional groups and confers specificity for the hydrophobic side chain. A loop encloses leucine and forms a lid-latch mechanism required for binding. A structure-guided mutation in Sestrin2 that decreases its affinity for leucine leads to a concomitant increase in the leucine concentration required for mTORC1 activation in cells. These results provide a structural mechanism of amino acid sensing by the mTORC1 pathway.