In response to environmental stimuli, macrophages change their nutrient consumption and undergo an early metabolic adaptation that progressively shapes their polarization state. During the transient, early phase of pro-inflammatory macrophage activation, an increase in tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle activity has been reported, but the relative contribution of branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine remains to be determined. Here, we show that glucose but not glutamine is a major contributor of the increase in TCA cycle metabolites during early macrophage activation in humans. We then show that, although uptake of BCAAs is not altered, their transamination by BCAT1 is increased following 8 h lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation. Of note, leucine is not metabolized to integrate into the TCA cycle in basal or stimulated human macrophages. Surprisingly, the pharmacological inhibition of BCAT1 reduced glucose-derived itaconate, α-ketoglutarate and 2-hydroxyglutarate levels without affecting succinate and citrate levels, indicating a partial inhibition of the TCA cycle. This indirect effect is associated with NRF2 (also known as NFE2L2) activation and anti-oxidant responses. These results suggest a moonlighting role of BCAT1 through redox-mediated control of mitochondrial function during early macrophage activation. © 2020. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.