Malnutrition has long been recognised as a risk factor for post-operative morbidity and mortality. Traditional metabolic and nutritional care of patients undergoing major elective surgery has emphasised pre-operative fasting and re-introduction of oral nutrition 3-5 d after surgery. Attempts to attenuate the consequent nutritional deficit and to influence post-operative morbidity and mortality have included parenteral, enteral and oral sip feeding. Recent studies have emphasised that an enhanced rate of recovery can be achieved by a multi-modal approach focused on modulating the metabolic status of the patient before (e.g. carbohydrate and fluid loading), during (e.g. epidural anaesthesia) and after (e.g. early oral feeding) surgery. Using such an approach preliminary results on patients undergoing elective colo-rectal surgery indicate a significant reduction in hospital stay (traditional care, n 48, median stay 10 d v. enhanced recovery programme, n 33, median stay 7d; P<0.01) can be achieved. Such findings emphasise the potential role of multi-modal care programmes in the promotion of early recovery from major surgical trauma.