An intricate link is becoming apparent between metabolism and cellular identities. Here, we explore the basis for such a link in an in vitro model for early mouse embryonic development: from naive pluripotency to the specification of primordial germ cells (PGCs). Using single-cell RNA-seq with statistical modelling and modulation of energy metabolism, we demonstrate a functional role for oxidative mitochondrial metabolism in naive pluripotency. We link mitochondrial tricarboxylic acid cycle activity to IDH2-mediated production of alpha-ketoglutarate and through it, the activity of key epigenetic regulators. Accordingly, this metabolite has a role in the maintenance of naive pluripotency as well as in PGC differentiation, likely through preserving a particular histone methylation status underlying the transient state of developmental competence for the PGC fate. We reveal a link between energy metabolism and epigenetic control of cell state transitions during a developmental trajectory towards germ cell specification, and establish a paradigm for stabilizing fleeting cellular states through metabolic modulation.