The Vertical Diet is a performance-based nutrition program designed by Stan Efferding — a renowned bodybuilder, powerlifter, and nutrition coach.
People who have ever followed a bulking program can testify that adhering to a calorie surplus diet is easier said than done. What looks like “just two more meals a day” on the outside can open up Pandora’s box. All of a sudden, you will need to be tracking your daily calories, macro, and micronutrient consumption.
The Vertical Diet – Introduction
The effect of eating 5-8 meals a day (for weight and strength gain) on your digestive system is one of the most underplayed aspects of dieting, especially if you are eating junk to meet your daily calorie requirements — which is often the case with powerlifters and strongmen.
Upgrading from three to six meals a day can take a toll on your digestion as your digestive system has to work twice as hard.
However, Stan “Rhino” Efferding claims to have a solution — the Vertical diet. According to him, the vertical diet optimizes gut health, corrects nutritional deficiencies, and balances hormones. It also promises to improve energy, endurance, and recovery in athletes.
The vertical diet emphasizes the importance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in recovery.
With the 2018 World Strongest Man champ Hafþór “The Mountain” Björnsson, four-time WSM winner Brian Shaw, Crossfit Champion and former “fittest woman on the planet” Camille LeBlanc, and Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Lineman Lane Johnson jumping on board, the vertical diet has gained major traction in a short period.
Although Stan developed the vertical diet for high-performance athletes, the nutrition program is now also marketed as an option for casual gym-goers looking to increase muscle mass or lose weight.
“In short, the Vertical Diet is about eating nutrient-dense foods that are easily digestible to help you lose or gain weight, maximize workouts, and achieve better nutrient absorption overall,” explains Efferding. “The goal is to keep the main focus on micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.”
Decoding The Vertical Diet
But why call it the “vertical diet,” you ask?
The nutrition program laid out on a chart looks like an upside-down ‘T.’ At the bottom of the ‘T,’ you will find key micronutrients required for proper body functioning.
The macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) are placed along the vertical axis of the chart. Stan Efferding recommends eating red meat and white rice to meet your daily macro and calorie needs.
While some people cannot fathom that Stan’s original vertical diet blueprint does not include the good old chicken, others like to debate the superiority of brown rice over white.
However, according to The Rhino, red meat and white rice are the best way to get as many calories as possible without disrupting your body’s digestion system. Besides, the food underneath the ‘T,’ helps aid in digestion and other body functions.
Vertical Diet Macronutrients
If your goal is to build muscle mass, your daily macronutrient profile while following the vertical diet should consist of:
- Protein: one gram per pound of bodyweight
- Fat: 0.3 grams per pound of bodyweight
- Carbohydrates: The remainder of your calories
Science Behind The Vertical Diet
The foods you are allowed to eat on the diet are all low in FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols). FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that can create digestive problems.
What separates the FODMAP food from the rest?
The fats and carbs from high-FODMAP foods pass through your system undigested. Your gut uses them for fuel, producing gas in the process.
An excess of this food can draw liquid into the intestines and lead to diarrhea in some people. The leaky gut syndrome can also be a consequence of a high-FODMAP diet.
Cutting Out The Antinutrients — Lectins and Phytic Acid
Antinutrients are compounds that reduce your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients.
Lectins and phytic acid are antinutrients that bind to and impair the digestion of minerals like magnesium, zinc, and iron.
Since the vertical diet focuses on improving your digestion and eating a boatload of micronutrients to facilitate it, consuming antinutrients can be counterproductive.
However, you should not eradicate lectins and phytic acid from your diet without a second thought. Lectin has been linked to lower cancer risks, and phytic acid is an antioxidant that has been associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and kidney stones.
Notably, the vertical diet allows the consumption of antinutrient-containing foods but only if they are soaked and fermented as it can reduce the potential negative effects of these compounds.
Foods You Can Eat on the Vertical Diet
“I don’t eat foods I like. I eat foods that like me. Getting your gut health and digestion in top shape might make you feel better than these everyday comfort staples.” — Stan Efferding
Foods you can eat on the Vertical Diet:
- Red meat: beef, lamb, bison, and venison as they are rich in iron, B vitamins, zinc, and cholesterol.
- Rice: white only as it practically has no fiber, fat, or antinutrients.
- Fruits: all fruits are allowed
- Potatoes: white or sweet
- Low-FODMAP vegetables: carrots, celery, cucumber, bell peppers, eggplant, spinach, etc.
- Oils and fats: extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter, nuts
- Eggs: whole eggs
- Dairy: full-fat yogurt, whole milk, cheese
- Sodium: bone broth, chicken stock, iodized table salt, cranberry juice
- Oats: only if soaked and fermented
- Legumes: only if soaked and fermented
On this program, you will be eating a healthy dose of micronutrients. However, your primary source of calories will be coming from red meat and white rice.
Foods to avoid on the Vertical Diet:
- Grains: brown rice, bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, wheat flour, unsoaked oats, etc.
- Highly processed vegetable oils: canola, soybean, corn, safflower, etc.
- Legumes: unsoaked lentils, beans, soy, peas, and peanuts
- Onions and garlic
- High-FODMAP vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, kale, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc.
- Sugar alcohols: erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, etc.
- Added sugar: candy, pastries, baked goods, sports drinks, soda, etc.
- Coffee: regular or decaf
- Other beverages: alkalized water
The vertical diet recommends avoiding white fish and white meat like chicken as Efferding does not find them as nutrient-dense as red meat.
Note: The vertical diet allows small amounts of some of these foods as long as you do not face digestive issues like gas or bloating.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Vertical Diet
Here are the benefits and drawbacks of the vertical diet you should know about before starting your transformation journey:
1. Reduces Exercise-Related Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Lifting heavy can be strenuous on your stomach. If you have ever squatted heavy after eating a bowl of beans, you will know what we mean.
Diets low in FODMAP can reduce digestive symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
2. Helps Build Muscle Mass and Strength By Allowing an Individual To Consume High Amount of Calories and Nutrients Without Feeling Full
Eating a high-calorie diet aids in increasing energy, muscle growth, and strength. At the same time, due to Low-FODMAP food consumption, you will be making gains without facing digestion issues.
By focusing on easily digestible food, the vertical diet makes it easier for your body to absorb high-calorie meals without experiencing digestive problems.
On top of that, the diet aids in ramping up your carb intake — boosting your strength and muscle mass in the process. Research has shown that adequate carb intake before a training session can improve performance and protein synthesis and might reduce muscle fiber breakdown.
3. Built Around Eating High-Quality, Nutrient-Rich Foods
Unlike traditional “horizontal” diets that include foods from a variety of food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, dairy, legumes), the vertical diet doubles down on a handful of food sources.
Not only does it make your grocery shopping less stressful, but it also makes your body more efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients — improving muscle growth and recovery in the process.
1. A Low-FODMAP Diet Might Not Be The Right Choice For An Average Person
According to research, eating low-FODMAP foods can be good for people with conditions like IBS, but eliminating them completely might not be a good approach for the general public.
A low-FODMAP diet program can result in decreased micronutrient intake and altered gut bacteria — leading to other gastrointestinal issues.
2. Requires You To Make Major Lifestyle Adjustments
The vertical diet is restrictive and lacks variety. If your favorite foods fall under the restricted food list, you might have a hard time coping with the vertical diet — at least initially.
3. Not Suitable For Vegetarians
Unlike most “horizontal” diets, the vertical diet does not give you the option to replace red meat with any vegetarian or vegan food items. This diet is reserved for non-vegetarians as it emphasizes red meats and limits vegetable, grain, and legume consumption.
4. A Lack of Gut Health Support
We know what you are thinking — isn’t the vertical diet all about improving gut health?
This could be confusing but hear us out.
The vertical diet claims to help athletes with gut health because it includes high amounts of white rice — an easy-to-digest carb. However, while white rice is easily digested, the diet is restrictive and lacks fiber-rich foods such as lentils and broccoli, which are essential for digestive health and function.
Foods such as oats, onions, whole grains, asparagus, apples, and fermented dairy products are filled to the brim with prebiotics and probiotics, but as you might have guessed — their consumption is strictly limited on the vertical diet.
5. Might Increase Risks of Cancer and Cardiovascular Diseases
We do not want to sound the alarm, but the vertical diet’s overreliance on red meat might be a cause for concern. In recent years, dieticians and nutritionists have been recommending people to cut down their red meat consumption as it is can increase the risks of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
According to dietary guidelines, you should cap your red meat intake at 18 ounces per week. However, you will blow past this number if you are eating red meat every day as per the vertical diet.
How To Design A Vertical Diet
Now that you know the ins and outs of the diet, here is how to design your own vertical diet plan:
- Start by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR). It is the number of calories your body needs to function while at rest.
- If you want to lose weight, you will subtract 300-500 calories per day from your daily calorie goal. On the other hand, you need to be eating that many calories more every day if you want to put on muscle mass. While following the vertical diet, you should expect a 2-5 pound weight change every week.
- In case you are trying to put on muscle mass, as your body adjusts to the new diet and you start feeling hungry between meals, you are supposed to “go vertical” by adding more calories.
- You could add calories to your diet by either increasing your portions of rice and meat or eating an additional meal during the day.
- If you feel hungry again, add another meal and keep repeating the process until you meet your goal muscle mass.
Vertical Diet Sample Meal Plan
Here is a meal plan for a 170-190 pound individual looking to put on muscle mass using the vertical diet:
- First Meal: whole eggs scrambled with cheese, red peppers, spinach, and salt, served with raw baby carrots, raw almonds, and 4 ounces (120 ml) of cranberry juice
- Second Meal: ground sirloin beef and white rice cooked in chicken stock, plus 4 ounces (120 ml) of orange juice
- Third Meal: chicken breast and sweet potato served with 4 ounces (120 ml) of orange juice
- Fourth Meal: grass-fed steak with white rice cooked in chicken stock and 4 ounces (120 ml) of cranberry juice
- Snack: Greek yogurt and baby carrots
There is no scientific evidence to back — or deny — the claims of the vertical diet. However, its effectiveness is underscored by the fact that many elite strongmen, powerlifters, CrossFit, and NFL athletes have used the nutrition program to achieve peak performance levels.
So, should you be using Stan’s diet program?
The vertical diet is a performance-based diet that can be used to achieve a specific strength goal. Bodybuilders, weightlifters, powerlifters, and strongmen usually use the diet to increase calorie consumption and maintain gut health to support muscle and strength growth.