Antibiotics have played a critical role in the prevention, control, and treatment of bacterial diseases in humans and animals, and as growth promoters (AGPs) when used at sub-therapeutic concentrations in animal production. Numerous hypotheses have been proposed for the effectiveness of AGPs, which have largely centered on the beneficial modulation of the intestinal microbiota. However, these hypotheses have been doubted by some researchers, as AGPs are fed at concentrations that would typically be below minimum inhibitory concentrations (sub-MIC) for the antibiotic used. More recently, pro-inflammatory immune responses have been associated with poor growth performance, and this, along with reported direct, anti-inflammatory effects of some antibiotics, have led to suggestions that reducing the nutrient cost of (intestinal) inflammation may explain the growth promoting or permitting effect of AGPs. However, doubts about antibacterial effects of AGPs, and the search for alternative explanations, overlook the sub-MIC effects of antibiotics. This paper summarizes some of the reported sub-MIC effects of antibiotics and considers these in the context of helping to explain the mode of action of AGPs and effects seen in studies in vivo. This leads to suggestions for the features that alternatives to AGPs could exhibit to achieve similar performance efficacy as AGPs.