In response to pathogenic threats, naïve T cells rapidly transition from a quiescent to activated state, yet the underlying mechanisms are incompletely understood. Using a pulsed SILAC approach, we investigated the dynamics of mRNA translation kinetics and protein turnover in human naïve and activated T cells. Our datasets uncovered that transcription factors maintaining T cell quiescence had constitutively high turnover, which facilitated their depletion upon activation. Furthermore, naïve T cells maintained a surprisingly large number of idling ribosomes as well as 242 repressed mRNA species and a reservoir of glycolytic enzymes. These components were rapidly engaged following stimulation, promoting an immediate translational and glycolytic switch to ramp up the T cell activation program. Our data elucidate new insights into how T cells maintain a prepared state to mount a rapid immune response, and provide a resource of protein turnover, absolute translation kinetics and protein synthesis rates in T cells (www.immunomics.ch).