Fatty acids (FA) and FA-derived metabolites have long been implicated in the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Surprisingly, application of metabolomics technologies has revealed that branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and related metabolites are more strongly associated with insulin resistance than many common lipid species. Moreover, the BCAA-related signature is predictive of incident diabetes and intervention outcomes and uniquely responsive to therapeutic interventions. Nevertheless, in animal feeding studies, BCAA supplementation requires the background of a high-fat diet to promote insulin resistance. This Perspective develops a model to explain how lipids and BCAA may synergize to promote metabolic diseases.