Anode potential can affect the degradation pathway of complex substrates in bioelectrochemical systems (BESs), thereby influencing current production and coulombic efficiency. However, the intricacies behind this interplay are poorly understood. This study used glucose as a model substrate to comprehensively investigate the effect of different anode potentials (− 150 mV, 0 mV and + 200 mV) on the relationship between current production, the electrogenic pathway and the abundance of the electrogenic microorganisms involved in batch mode fed BESs. Current production in glucose-acclimatized reactors was a function of the abundance of Geobacteraceae and of the availability of acetate and formate produced by glucose degradation. Current production was increased by high anode potentials during acclimation (0 mV and + 200 mV), likely due to more Geobacteraceae developing. However, this effect was much weaker than a stimulus from an artificial high acetate supply: acetate was the rate-limiting intermediate in these systems. The supply of acetate could not be influenced by anode potential; altering the flow regime, batch time and management of the upstream fermentation processes may be a greater engineering tool in BES. However, these findings suggest that if high current production is the focus, it will be extremely difficult to achieve success with complex waste streams such as domestic wastewater.