It has been suggested that protein feeding increases portal pressure in cirrhotic patients, but that carbohydrate and fat have little effect. We examined the relationship between feeding and portal pressure, using different liquid test meals (250 or 500 ml non-protein, 250 ml protein-containing, 500 ml water), in 29 alcoholic patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension. The mean hepatic venous pressure gradient (HVPG) increased significantly 30 min after the protein meal (10% increase; p = 0.009) and returned to basal levels at 60 min. The mean HVPG also increased significantly after the non-protein meal: after 500 ml the increase was 23% at 30 min (p = 0.046) and 17% at 60 min (p = 0.12); and after 250 ml it was 15% at 30 min (p = 0.012) and 7% at 60 min (p = 0.05). Ingestion of 500 ml water caused a small, non-significant, increase in mean HVPG. Plasma glucagon levels increased significantly at 30 and 60 min after the protein meal, but did not change significantly after the non-protein meal or water. Both protein-containing and non-protein meals significantly elevate HVPG in alcoholic patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension.