Risk factors often develop at young age and are maintained over time, but it is not fully understood how risk factors develop over time preceding cardiovascular disease (CVD). Our objective was to examine how levels and trajectories of metabolic risk factors and biochemical markers prior to diagnosis differ between people with and without CVD over a period of up to 15-20 years. A total of 449 incident non-fatal and fatal CVD cases and 1,347 age- and sex-matched controls were identified in a prospective cohort between 1993 and 2011. Metabolic risk factors and biochemical markers were measured at five-year intervals prior to diagnosis. Trajectories of metabolic risk factors and biochemical markers were analysed using random coefficient analyses. Although not always statistically significant, participants with CVD had slightly more unfavourable levels for most metabolic risk factors and biochemical markers 15-20 years before diagnosis than controls. Subsequent trajectories until diagnosis were similar in participants with incident CVD and controls for body mass index, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, random glucose, triglycerides, gamma glutamyltransferase, C-reactive protein and uric acid. Trajectories were more unfavourable in participants with CVD than controls for systolic blood pressure, waist circumference and estimated glomerular filtration rate (p≤0.05). For example, among participants with CVD, systolic blood pressure increased on average by 9 mmHg over the 18-year period preceding diagnosis, whereas the increase among controls was 4 mmHg. In conclusion, unfavourable levels of metabolic risk factors and biochemical markers are present long before CVD, which indicates that the risk of CVD is already partly determined in young adulthood. This underscores the need for early prevention to reduce the burden of CVD.