Microalgae and cyanobacteria are a promising new source of biomass that may complement agricultural crops to meet the increasing global demand for food, feed, biofuels and chemical production. Microalgae and cyanobacteria cultivation does not interfere directly with food production, but care should be taken to avoid indirect competition for nutrient (fertilizer) supply. Microalgae and cyanobacteria production requires high concentrations of essential nutrients (C,N,P,S,K,Fe, etc.). In the present paper the application of nutrients and their uptake by microalgae and cyanobacteria is reviewed. The main focus is on the three most significant nutrients, i.e. carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus; however other nutrients are also reviewed. Nutrients are generally taken up in the inorganic form, but several organic forms of them are also assimilable. Some nutrients do not display any inhibition effect on microalgal or cyanobacterial growth, while others, such as NO2 or NH3 have detrimental effects when present in high concentrations. Nutrients in the gaseous form, such as CO2 and NO face a major limitation which is related mainly to their mass transfer from the gaseous to the liquid state. Since the cultivation of microalgae and cyanobacteria consumes considerable quantities of nutrients, strategies to improve the nutrient application efficiency are needed. Additionally, a promising strategy to improve microalgal and cyanobacterial production sustainability is the utilization of waste streams by recycling and waste nutrients. However, major constraints of using waste streams are the reduction of the range of the biomass applications due to production of contaminated biomass and the possible low bio-availability of some nutrients.