Lactic acid-producing bacteria survive in distinct environments, but show common metabolic characteristics. Here we studied the dynamic interactions of the central metabolism in Lactococcus lactis, extensively used as a starter culture in the dairy industry, and Streptococcus pyogenes, a human pathogen. Glucose-pulse experiments and enzymatic measurements were performed to parameterize kinetic models of glycolysis. Significant improvements were made to existing kinetic models for L. lactis, which subsequently accelerated the development of the first kinetic model of S. pyogenes glycolysis. The models revealed an important role for extracellular phosphate in the regulation of central metabolism and the efficient use of glucose. Thus, phosphate, which is rarely taken into account as an independent species in models of central metabolism, should be considered more thoroughly in the analysis of metabolic systems in the future. Insufficient phosphate supply can lead to a strong inhibition of glycolysis at high glucose concentrations in both species, but this was more severe in S. pyogenes. S. pyogenes is more efficient at converting glucose to ATP, showing a higher tendency towards heterofermentative energy metabolism than L. lactis. Our comparative systems biology approach revealed that the glycolysis of L. lactis and S. pyogenes have similar characteristics, but are adapted to their individual natural habitats with respect to phosphate regulation. © 2012 FEBS.