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The Vertical Diet: In the Direction of Good Health

At first glance, the idea of a vertical diet might have you thinking that it’s about eating standing up. However, the Vertical Diet is much more complicated than its name implies. Created by Stan Efferding- a professional bodybuilder and world-record-holding powerlifter, the Vertical diet is designed to help bodybuilders and other elite athletes gain muscle mass and improve performance. The idea behind it is that the more training you do, the higher or the more vertical your caloric needs will be. With this in mind, the vertical diet is a nutrition plan that has as a goal to improve your performance. By consuming easy to digest foods, the body can absorb nutrients more quickly and efficiently and have less digestive side effects. As Stan Efferding has said “This is a performance-based nutritional framework that starts with a solid foundation of highly bioavailable micronutrients which supports a structure of easily digestible macronutrients that can be adjusted specifically to meet the body’s demands.” 

The Vertical Diet was created to be simple, sustainable, and smart. Although it was created by and initially for bodybuilders, it’s a regime that can be used by anyone. By improving overall health and performance, it can be a beneficial tool for all. 

This is not about a superfood or about a high restriction diet. Instead, it is about focusing on whole foods, optimizing gut health, and improving energy, endurance, and recovery. All this while balancing out nutrient deficiencies and hormone levels in a sustainable way. 

A Better Understanding of the Vertical Diet 

So, the first question that most people ask is, “Why is it called the Vertical Diet?” Well, the answer is actually quite simple. The name is derived from a new kind of food pyramid -one that is shaped like an upside-down T. The horizontal part of the bottom is where small portions of food, also known as the solid foundation micronutrients are placed. These are foods like fruits and veggies which provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Then everything in the vertical part of the T, everything moving upwards, should be white rice and red meats. No chicken or other poultry, no fish, no grains, no legumes. Seems extreme? It’s not meant to be. In fact, supporters of this diet are all about how the protein and carb heavy side of this diet is what will optimize your gut health and boost your energy, endurance, and recovery times. Not to mention correct any deficiencies in the body.

Do the Health Experts Agree? 

No. They don’t. Why not? Because a massive consumption of red meat has been shown by multiple sources to be directly correlated to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. But before we get to the big guys, let’s start a little smaller, a little more relative. 

Gut Health

We know that gut health is directly related to the amount of fiber that we are absorbing. No even needs to prove this scientifically because everyone has felt the effects of low fiber intake at some point in their lives. And what’s the solution when encountering bloating, constipation and gas? It’s to eat more vegetables. Not rice and red meat. Now add to this that the Vertical Diet also eliminates many foods that are a source of prebiotics, things like oats for example. These are foods that the gut needs to ensure that the bacteria in the gut do their job correctly. The third issue is that fiber is also essential when it comes to the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Fiber will slow down the process, thereby ensuring that the body can have more time to absorb more nutrients. 

Let’s add to this that the Vertical Diet claims to focus on gaining more micronutrients; however, it limits and even restricts a lot of nutrient-dense foods. Food like whole grains and legumes are no their no-fly list, yet some foods are packed with micronutrients. 

Will You See Gains with the Vertical Diet? 

Yes, according to its creator and many in the bodybuilding world, you will see muscle mass and power gains on this diet. You may even see higher endurance levels and better recovery times. However, you might also be doing so at a cost to your long-term health. There are many ways to get protein into your diet without loading up on red meat every day. Lean meats, nuts, seeds, soy, and plants all have protein and are associated with much lower risks of heart disease. 

Restrictive Diets 

The Vertical Diet claims it’s not restrictive. However, many foods in the grains and legumes department are not included. Not to mention the small amounts of fruits and veggies and the lack of white meat and fish. With all these restrictions, it’s very difficult to make this diet sustainable in the long term. That’s because when you restrict foods, the body ends up wanting them even more. Cravings hit hard and the body begins to think that it’s in starvation mode. That’s when the brain goes into overdrive and starts pushing towards binging and overeating. However, this is exactly what its creator Stan Efferding says is the right choice. He believes that by limiting the variety of foods, the body becomes more efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients from the food that it is given. He says that this in turn. Will improve muscle growth, recovery, overall gut health, and raise your metabolism. Those on the science side of the equation, don’t seem to agree though. 

Still, want to try it? All right. Here’s how. 

What to Eat on the Vertical Diet 

Start with red meat and white rice as these two foods are what comprise the majority of the diet. White rice is easy to digest, which is essential for elite athletes who need higher levels of caloric intake. As well, the reason that red meat is preferred over poultry and fish is because of its nutrient density and higher levels of iron, vitamin B, zinc, and cholesterol. All of which are important for muscle growth and testosterone production. 

However, even for a bodybuilder, these two foods alone are not enough. Other foods can be things like eggs, yogurt, spinach, and some salmon. 

Here’s the quick view list:

  • *Rice: white only
  • *Red meat: beef, lamb, bison, and venison 
  • Fruits: mostly oranges, 100% orange juice, cranberries, and 100% cranberry juice are the top choices. However, all fruits are allowed 
  • Potatoes: white and sweet potatoes
  • Vegetables: carrots, celery, zucchini, cucumber, bell peppers, eggplant, spinach, butternut squash, etc. These are veggies that are easily digested.
  • Oils and fats: extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter, nuts 
  • Fatty fish: wild Alaskan salmon (however red meat is preferable)
  • Eggs: whole eggs 
  • Dairy: full-fat yogurt, whole milk, cheese 
  • Sodium: bone broth, chicken stock, table salt
  • Poultry: chicken, turkey (however red meat is preferable)

*Top choices in this nutrition plan. 

What Not to Eat on the Vertical Diet 

Basically, it comes down to being easily digestible. If a food is not, then it shouldn’t be consumed while on the Vertical Diet. This includes vegetables that cause bloating and gas like broccoli and cauliflower. As well as onions and garlic. Sadly, these last two are staples of good cooking, so your food might start tasting a lot blander than before! 

Other foods to avoid would be legumes, brown rice, and other grains. 

Here’s the quick view list:

  • Grains: brown rice, bread, pasta, cereal, wheat flour, oats, etc. 
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, soy, peas, and peanuts 
  • Highly processed vegetable oils: canola, soybean, corn, safflower, etc. 
  • Onions and garlic: all forms of onion, garlic, and shallots 
  • Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, kale, etc. 
  • Sugar: all kinds, including erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, etc. 
  • Added sugar: candy, pastries, baked goods, soda, sports drinks, etc. 
  • Coffee: regular and decaf 
  • Other beverages: alkalized water 

Breaking Down the Vertical Diet

One of the first things you will need to do is calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the exact number of calories that your body requires to function when you are at rest. Once you have this number, you add calories based on your current training schedule. If you are bodybuilding, then you should be aiming for a significant calorie surplus to gain muscle mass. 

It will take time for your body to adjust. As you begin feeling hungry between meals, this is when you “go vertical,” so to speak and add more calories. Again, this is about adding more muscle gains and aiming for a quicker recovery. You can even add in n additional meal per day if need be. As soon as you begin feeling hungry again between meals, repeat the process. 

Benefits of the Vertical Diet

Considering the information surrounding the Vertical Diet is so conflicting, it’s worthwhile to point out the potential benefits. Despite concerns that it is not the healthiest of nutrition plans to stick to long-term, there are some benefits. Mostly if you are a bodybuilder or powerlifter. Athletes of this nature are inclined to gain the muscle mass that they are looking for when following the Vertical Diet.

Having a caloric surplus is crucial for gaining muscle tone. Because this diet focuses on easily digestible foods, it becomes easier to eat high-calorie meals on a more frequent basis. All without any digestive side effects. It’s also a very high carb nutrition plan due to its focus on white rice. High amounts of carbohydrates also help build muscle mass and provide more energy when working out. 

To conclude, it’s easy to see why the Vertical Diet has been shown to have positive results amongst the weightlifting and bodybuilding communities. However, this does not mean that it is a viable diet plan for the masses. You’ll want to seriously consider your reasons for trying the Vertical Diet before jumping in. And if you do go for it, just remember that this is not a nutrition plan that is sustainable for the long term. Masses amounts of red meat and minimal fiber is not a long term health solution, despite making it easier for you to bulk up in the short term. 


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