Reef Tanks on a Budget (Part 5): Additives and Food

Reef Tanks on a Budget (Part 5): Additives and Food

In the 5th installment of this multipart series, Reef Tanks on a Budget (Part 5) Additives and Food, we will go over additive and food options for your reef tank.

Editor’s Note: If you haven’t already, please give Part 1, 2, 3, and 4 a read first:

When it comes to additives and foods for a reef tank, there are various brands to choose from.  Some are pretty basic, while others do a little bit more. Let’s go over the different types of additives and foods, then we’ll highlight those that are more budget-friendly. 


For reef tanks with just soft corals, regular water changes are usually enough to keep water parameters stable. However, for reef tanks with hard corals, additives are needed to keep water parameters within range. In particular, calcium and alkalinity are consumed quickly by hard corals as they build their skeletal structures. Other minor and trace elements are consumed by corals, removed by skimming or adsorbed by filter media. We recommend regular water testing to make sure all critical parameters are within an acceptable range.

For tanks with hard corals, regular dosing of calcium and alkalinity is essential to keeping their values stable. Even with frequent water changes, dosing other minor and trace parameters, like magnesium, is likely.

Common Dosing Products:

  • 2-Part Dosing: A popular and straightforward dosing system used to add just calcium and alkalinity to the tank. Lightly stocked tanks can maintain essential water parameters through regular water changes; however, more heavily stocked tanks will still require supplemental dosing of magnesium and other additives to keep up with consumption.

    Popular Examples: BRS 2-Part
  • All-in-One Dosing: Also known as the balling or balling light method, a multiple-part dosing system that adds calcium and alkalinity plus magnesium and other minor and trace elements.

    Popular Examples: ATI Essentials Pro, ESV B-Ionic 2-Part, and Red Sea Reef Foundation
  • Calcium Reactor: A pressurized chamber used to add calcium and alkalinity via a single concentrated solution.

    Popular Examples: Reef Octopus and Korallin

Budget Recommendation: For reef tanks with a limited number of hard corals, a regular 2 part dosing system with frequent water changes is generally sufficient. For reef tanks with many stony corals, an All-in-One dosing system is generally the best choice.


There are many types of foods available on the market, even for corals. Not all foods are created equal, and some may be a better option than others.

Types of Food:

  • Dry Fish Food: This includes flakes and pellets that can easily be fed by hand and more conveniently in an automatic feeder and typically made from ingredients that are not common to fish and coral diets, such as dried yeast, wheat gluten, ground brown rice, and more. Most captive-bred fish will take to this type of food. Wild-caught fish, on the other hand, are generally pickier and may not eat it. Some LPS corals (Large Polyp Stony Coral) are large enough to eat these types of foods. Dry foods should be fed in moderation to prevent nitrate and phosphate levels from rising.  

    Popular Examples: New Life Spectrum, Cobalt Aquatics, Reef Nutrition, and Ocean Nutrition.
  • Frozen Food: There are many varieties of frozen foods available on the market. Some are single-ingredient foods commonly made from pacific plankton, mysis, or brine shrimp great for feeding carnivorous fish. Some are mixed ingredient foods designed for herbivores, carnivores, and corals.

    Popular Examples: PEMysis, Rod’s Original Blend, LRS Reef Frenzy, and Limpits Reef Buffet.
  • Coral Food: Coral foods are available in dried powder, refrigerated liquids, and frozen varieties and are used to feed corals, such as SPS, soft corals, and gorgonians, that cannot eat large chunks of food. Some corals can only survive with supplemental feeding.

    Popular Examples: Coral Feast, Rod’s Coral Blend, Reef Roids, and Oyster Feast.
  • Amino Acids: Amino acids play an important role in coral health as they are essential to enzyme production, tissue growth and skeletal formation. They are known to cause corals to extend their tentacles, open their mouths, swell tissue and expel digestive filaments. These are all feeding responses in corals, so amino acids are generally considered more of a food than an additive. 

    Popular Examples: ME Amino Polyp Extender, Red Sea Reef Energy AB+, and Acropower.

Budget Recommendation: Although it can be difficult to use just one food, many hobbyists have found using a frozen, all-in-one reef food will provide for the nutritional needs of many fish and corals. All-in-one foods generally come in a flat pack, which means there is no binders or fillers, just pure nutrition, and even though they are generally more expensive, they will typically last longer than other options.

With such a large variety of additives and foods to pick from, choosing the right products can be difficult. Purchasing a single product that covers a number of your reef tanks needs may seem more expensive. However, when adding the cost of buying everything separately, it may save more in the end.  

Whatever you choose to go with, make sure to give it time to work before jumping to another product as nothing good ever happens fast in a reef tank. If you have any questions, please contact us here. Happy reefing!

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