Pharmaco-nutrients have beneficial effects on protective and immunological mechanisms in patients undergoing surgery, which are important for recovery after injury and in combating infectious agents. The aim of this review article was to outline the potential of the administration of nutritional substrates to surgical patients and the underlying mechanisms that make them particularly important in peri-operative care. Surgery causes a stress response, which has catabolic effects on the body's substrate stores. The amino acid glutamine is a stimulating agent for immune cells. It activates protective mechanisms through its role as a precursor for antioxidants and it improves the barrier function of the gut. Arginine also enhances the function of the immune system, since it is the substrate for T-lymphocytes. Furthermore, n-3 PUFA stabilise surgery-induced hyper-inflammation. Taurine is another substrate that may counteract the negative effects of surgical injury on acid-base balance and osmotic balance. These pharmaco-nutrients rapidly become deficient under the influence of surgical stress. Supplementation of these nutrients in surgical patients may restore their protective and immune-enhancing actions and improve clinical outcome. Moreover, pre-operative fasting is still common practice in the Western world, although fasting has a negative effect on the patient's condition and the recovery after surgery. This may be counteracted by a simple intervention such as administering a carbohydrate-rich supplement just before surgery. In conclusion, there are various nutritional substrates that may be of great value in improving the condition of the surgical patient, which may be beneficial for post-operative recovery.