Lymphocytes face major metabolic challenges upon activation. They must meet the bioenergetic and biosynthetic demands of increased cell proliferation and also adapt to changing environmental conditions, in which nutrients and oxygen may be limiting. An emerging theme in immunology is that metabolic reprogramming and lymphocyte activation are intricately linked. However, why T cells adopt specific metabolic programs and the impact that these programs have on T cell function and, ultimately, immunological outcome remain unclear. Research on tumor cell metabolism has provided valuable insight into metabolic pathways important for cell proliferation and the influence of metabolites themselves on signal transduction and epigenetic programming. In this Review, we highlight emerging concepts regarding metabolic reprogramming in proliferating cells and discuss their potential impact on T cell fate and function.