ABSTRACT Cancer stem cells are a subpopulation of cells within a tumour believed to confer resistance to standard cancer therapies. Although many studies have addressed the specific mechanisms of tumour recurrence driven by cancer stem cells, cellular metabolism is an often-neglected attribute. The metabolic features of cancer stem cells are still poorly understood, and they thus constitute a promising field in cancer research. The findings published so far point to a distinct metabolic phenotype in cancer stem cells, which might depend on the cancer type, the model system used or even the experimental design, and several controversies still need to be tackled. This Review describes the metabolic phenotype of cancer stem cells by addressing the main metabolic traits in different tumours, including glycolysis and oxidative, glutamine, fatty acid and amino acid metabolism. In the context of these pathways, we also mention the specific alterations in metabolic enzymes and metabolite levels that have a role in the regulation of cancer stemness. Determining the role of metabolism in supporting resistance to therapy driven by cancer stem cells can raise the opportunity for novel therapeutic targets, which might not only eliminate this resistant population, but, more importantly, eradicate the whole tumour in a relapse-free scenario.