An optimal nutritional state is an important consideration in providing successful operative outcomes. Unfortunately, many aspects of surgery are not constructive to providing this. In addition, the metabolic and immune response to injury induces a catabolic state and insulin resistance, a known risk factor of post-operative complications. Aggressive insulin therapy post-operatively has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality but similar results can be achieved when insulin resistance is lessened by the use of pre-operative carbohydrate loading. Consuming carbohydrate-containing drinks up to 2 h before surgery has been found to be an effective way to attenuate insulin resistance, minimise protein losses, reduce hospital stays and improve patient comfort without adversely affecting gastric emptying. Enhanced recovery programmes have employed carbohydrate loading as one of several strategies aimed at reducing post-operative stress and improving the recovery process. Studies examining the benefits of these programmes have demonstrated significantly shorter post-operative hospital stays, faster return to normal functions and lower occurrences of surgical complications. As a consequence of the favourable evidence they are now being implemented in many surgical units. Further benefit to post-operative recovery may be found with the use of immune-enhancing diets, i.e. supplementation with n-3 fatty acids, arginine, glutamine and/or nucleotides. These have the potential to boost the immune system, improve wound healing and reduce inflammatory markers. Research exploring the benefits of immunonutrition and solidifying the use of carbohydrate loading is ongoing; however, there is strong evidence to link good pre-operative nutrition and improved surgical outcomes.