Aquatic Nutrition – Fish and Coral

Aquatic Nutrition – Fish and Coral


Over the last 5 years, the aquarium hobby has seen great strides made in feeds and nutritional supplements for both fish and corals.  This has enabled us to keep a greater variety of delicate species, keep fish healthier and longer, captive breed many species including some saltwater fish and feed plants and coral to achieve unparalleled growth.  All in all, this has made the hobby easier for all hobbyists.


Fish Foods

The staple generic flake food has now morphed into an array of specific species’ flake, pellet and frozen foods as with treats now for your fish.  For many years, the hobby put prime importance on water quality and just fed their fish whatever flake food they could find.  The aquaculture industry has put significant Research & Development into understanding the important aspects of fish foods that has now trickled into the aquarium hobby.  We have found that nutrition is just as important as water quality in the maintenance of these animals and is primarily important when the hobbyist is breading fish.  A variety of foods from each category – flake, pellet, frozen and treats – should also be given to the community tank to achieve the best health, coloration and stability of the inhabitants.


Flake Food

Flake food has been in the hobby practically since the hobby’s inception.  Flake food has changed from being primarily fish meal and other generic ingredients to having many other types of ingredients and supplements mixed in the flake.  The flakes are fortified with many vitamins and minerals.  The foods are now even formulated to target various types of fish – herbivores, omnivores and carnivores.  The negative of flake food is with how it is processed making it very thin and the heated processing destroys some of its nutrients.  Due to the surface area of the foods, vitamins in the fortified foods will rapidly start decomposing as soon as the package is opened.  Especially with flake foods, a hobbyist should never buy more than one month’s supply per can to ensure the foods maintain their value.


Pellet Food

Pellet foods are typically round in nature although some are in the stick variety mostly seen in pond fish foods.  Pellet foods are manufactured in various sizes to address the needs of most sizes of fish seen in the aquarium industry.  Of the dry foods, these are the most nutritious, due to how they are processed.  Like flake food, there are specific formulations to target the majority of the fish and vitamin/mineral fortified.  Pellet foods will also feed fish in all parts of the water column as some float, others sink slowly and some sink quickly.  Note that if you have an aquarium with an overflow, the slow and fast sinking variety work the best as the food enters the water column rapidly rather than being swept across the surface of the aquarium water into the overflow and now collecting in the mechanical portion of the filtration system.


Wafer food

Wafers are for target feeding certain types of fish.  These are typically in freshwater and feed off the bottom of the aquarium or are of the algae eating variety.  Fishes in this category are of the catfish, loach, botia, plecostomus, and etc. species.


Frozen Food

Frozen foods seem to have the largest variety available.  
There are:

  • Solid meat foods – brine shrimp, blood worms, daphnia, Mysis shrimp, krill, muscles, clam, silversides, etc.  
  • Formulated foods – herbivore, omnivore and carnivore diets
  • Specific Species foods – discus, angel, trigger, shark, etc.

Frozen foods are able to provide other nutrients that flake and pellet can not.  The newer formulations more mimic what the fish prefer to eat in their Mother Nature environment.  Frozen foods should be part of any fish diet and then supplemented with pellet and flake for variety purposes.


Coral Foods

Over the last five years, coral specific foods have flooded the market.  These foods have promoted explosive coral growth, coloration and health by allowing us to keep corals never before in the past.  The acceleration in coral propagation is directly related to this change.  The manufacturers have developed refrigerated and unrefrigerated liquids and frozen foods to address the needs of most of the corals currently being kept in the hobby.



Brine shrimp was the only “treat” that we had until the last few years for our favorite fish.  Many people would feed their fish a staple of Brine Shrimp which is actually harmful to them.  The hobby now has great treats for our finned friends.  We have frozen meats that most any fish will jump out of the water for and just recently, canned morsels of 3 types of worms and krill.  Koi treats are also specially formulated for our pond friends.  Treats should only be fed 2-3 times per week and never as a staple food.



As all fish food is processed, even the best fish feeds do not maintain the level of vitamins, minerals, omega acids, etc. that the fish find in nature.  It is always a great idea to fortify all fish feed on a daily basis with these type supplements or at a minimum of 3 feedings per week.  Garlic and banana extract are two great appetite stimulates that are now available.  Garlic has also been found to have some minor therapeutic value against parasites.  Many aquarists feed garlic every day in saltwater environments and manufacturers are now fortifying their foods on a routine basis.



The majority of fish only need to be fed 1 time per day.  The exception would be truly herbivore only fish.  These fish are grazers and should be fed 2-3 times per day when a natural food source is not provided within the aquatic environment.  Fish should consume all food provided within 1 minute.  You should also try to mimic the part of the water column that the fish feed in – top, middle or bottom.  Ensure the food that makes it to the bottom is definitely eaten though.  Pay attention to the species of fish you have and provide them the foods they specifically need as you will see better coloration and have a healthier specimen.  


Fish will always be voracious while eating.  This is their normal feeding habit as they must eat quickly in nature or either miss out on the meal or maybe even become a meal for a larger fish.  Therefore, just because they may act like they are starved, this does not mean you need to feed any more than their normal portion.  A well balanced aquatic environment also will have mid-water feeders as with bottom feeders.  Your filter cartridge is also a barometer for proper feeding habits such that it should never become smelly or slimy on a normally stocked aquarium within 3-4 weeks between filter changes.  Remember, when in doubt, underfeed.  It is very hard to kill fish by underfeeding, but you can quickly contaminate a tank by overfeeding, even if the fish eat all of it.  Feeding high quality foods to fish will yield the same results as feeding high quality food to dogs and cats – they metabolize more of the food, excrete less waste and are healthier.


In summary, the better foods will provide a healthier aquatic environment from both a water quality parameter and a fish health perspective.  Prepare them a varied diet from all classes of food and remember to give them treats on a regular basis.  Feeding is a fun time for the fish so have fun feeding them.  Happy aquarium keeping.

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