Cancer cells have long been known to fuel their pathogenic growth habits by sustaining a high glycolytic flux, first described almost 90 years ago as the so-called Warburg effect. Immune cells utilize a similar strategy to generate the energy carriers and metabolic intermediates they need to produce biomass and inflammatory mediators. Resting lymphocytes generate energy through oxidative phosphorylation and breakdown of fatty acids, and upon activation rapidly switch to aerobic glycolysis and low tricarboxylic acid flux. T cells in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have a disease-specific metabolic signature that may explain, at least in part, why they are dysfunctional. RA T cells are characterized by low adenosine triphosphate and lactate levels and increased availability of the cellular reductant NADPH. This anti-Warburg effect results from insufficient activity of the glycolytic enzyme phosphofructokinase and differentiates the metabolic status in RA T cells from those in cancer cells. Excess production of reactive oxygen species and a defect in lipid metabolism characterizes metabolic conditions in SLE T cells. Owing to increased production of the glycosphingolipids lactosylceramide, globotriaosylceramide and monosialotetrahexosylganglioside, SLE T cells change membrane raft formation and fail to phosphorylate pERK, yet hyperproliferate. Borrowing from cancer metabolomics, the metabolic modifications occurring in autoimmune disease are probably heterogeneous and context dependent. Variations of glucose, amino acid and lipid metabolism in different disease states may provide opportunities to develop biomarkers and exploit metabolic pathways as therapeutic targets.