The Vertical Diet is a performance-based nutrition plan developed by a professional bodybuilder and powerlifter.
It claims to optimize gut health, correct nutritional deficiencies, and balance hormones. It also promises to improve energy, endurance, and recovery in athletes.
Originally developed for high-performance athletes and bodybuilders, the Vertical Diet is also marketed as an option for casual gym-goers.
This article explains everything you need to know about the Vertical Diet.
What is the Vertical Diet?
The Vertical Diet was developed by Stan Efferding, an elite powerlifter, to enhance performance in bodybuilders, powerlifters, and serious athletes.
The program also claims to work for casual gym-goers who are looking to increase muscle mass or lose weight.
Unlike traditional “horizontal” diets that emphasize dietary variety across numerous food groups, the Vertical Diet focuses on a limited number of high-quality, nutrient-rich foods.
According to Efferding, limiting variety makes your body more efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients, which should improve muscle growth, recovery, gut health, and metabolism.
That said, these claims are not backed by scientific evidence.
The Vertical Diet was created by powerlifter Stan Efferding to enhance athletic performance and improve recovery. It promotes a limited number of high-quality, nutrient-rich foods that are easy to digest.
How to follow the Vertical Diet
The Vertical Diet has several components, all of which are meant to maximize muscle gain.
While designed to be high in carbs, the diet can also be customized to meet a variety of eating patterns, including low-carb diets, intermittent fasting, and the paleo diet.
Red meat and white rice comprise the bulk of the Vertical Diet.
According to the diet’s advocates, white rice is the primary carb source because it’s easy to digest, especially in large quantities. This is particularly important for serious athletes with very high calorie needs.
Red meat is preferred over poultry or fish due to its nutrient density and concentration of iron, B vitamins, zinc, and cholesterol, which the diet claims are important for muscle growth and testosterone production.
However, as you can’t meet all your micronutrient needs with these two foods, the diet includes a limited amount of nutrient-rich, easily digestible foods, such as eggs, yogurt, spinach, and salmon.
All foods that aren’t easily digestible are discouraged.
These include vegetables that may cause bloating and gas, such as broccoli and cauliflower, which are high in FODMAPs, as well as onion and garlic.
When starting out, you calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the number of calories your body needs to function while at rest. You then add calories based on your training regimen. Bodybuilders should aim for a calorie surplus to gain muscle weight.
As your body adjusts to the diet and starts to feel hungry between meals, you’re supposed to “go vertical” by adding more calories. This process is meant to support greater muscle gains, quicker recovery, and more intense or frequent training sessions.
The exact number of additional calories is based on training needs and involves either increasing your portions of rice and meat or eating an additional meal during the day.
Once you start feeling hungry between meals again, you repeat this process until you’ve reached your goal weight or goal muscle mass.
Most calories on the Vertical Diet come from red meat and white rice, though limited amounts of nutrient-rich, easily digestible foods are allowed. Calories are steadily increased to support muscle growth and bodybuilding.
Bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other athletes looking to gain muscle mass may find that the Vertical Diet fits their needs.
It may also benefit those who want to lose weight or have difficulty digesting FODMAPs.
May support muscle gains
By focusing on easily digestible foods, the Vertical Diet makes it easier to eat frequent, high-calorie meals without experiencing digestive side effects.
May reduce digestive symptoms in some individuals
Diets low in FODMAPs — foods which the Vertical Diet limits — have been shown to significantly reduce digestive symptoms, such as bloating, stomach cramps, constipation, and diarrhea, in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (
Bodybuilders and other athletes who need frequent, high-calorie meals may also benefit, as low-FODMAP foods reduce your risk of bloating. Bloating may otherwise impair your muscle and weight gains by limiting your food intake.
Still, some high-FODMAP foods are allowed on the Vertical Diet, including milk, yogurt, apples, cherries, figs, and other fruits.
Therefore, you may want to avoid these foods if you have IBS.
The Vertical Diet’s emphasis on easily digestible foods may help people with IBS or athletes with high calorie needs tolerate it better. The diet’s main benefit is that it aids muscle growth.
It’s important to note that the Vertical Diet has numerous downsides, including being:
- Low in fiber. Adequate fiber intake aids fullness, heart health, and digestive health. It may also lower the risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer (
10, 11, 12).
- Low in prebiotics. Despite claims that it boosts gut health, the Vertical Diet excludes many important sources of prebiotics — dietary fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut — including garlic, onions, and barley (
- Limited in variety. The diet is restrictive and repetitive, making long-term adherence difficult. It may also lead to nutrient deficiencies if not planned correctly (
- Inappropriate for vegetarians or vegans. As the Vertical Diet emphasizes red meat intake while limiting vegetable, grain, and legume intake, it’s unsuitable for people who are vegetarian or vegan.
- Expensive to follow. While white rice is usually cheap, the other components of the Vertical Diet can be costly — especially considering the recommendation to buy only high-quality foods, such as grass-fed beef and organic produce.
The Vertical Diet is severely restrictive, expensive to follow, and low in overall and prebiotic fiber. It may lead to nutritional deficiencies and be difficult to maintain long term.
Foods to eat
The Vertical Diet emphasizes red meat and white rice while offering limited amounts of other items. Foods you can eat on this diet include:
- Rice: white only
- Red meat: beef, lamb, bison, and venison
- Fruits: mostly oranges, 100% orange juice, cranberries, and 100% cranberry juice — but all fruits are allowed
- Potatoes: white and sweet potatoes
- Low-FODMAP vegetables: carrots, celery, zucchini, cucumber, bell peppers, eggplant, spinach, butternut squash, etc.
- Oils and fats: extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter, nuts
- Fatty fish: wild Alaskan salmon is highly encouraged
- Eggs: whole eggs
- Dairy: full-fat yogurt, whole milk, cheese
- Sodium: bone broth, chicken stock, iodized table salt
- Poultry: chicken, turkey
- Oats: only if soaked and fermented
- Legumes: beans and other legumes, only if soaked and fermented
The diet likewise encourages eating high-quality foods, such as grass-fed meats, free-range eggs, and organic fruits and vegetables.
The Vertical Diet promotes nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest. Other than red meat and white rice, it allows some fruits, low-FODMAP vegetables, eggs, whole-fat dairy, and fatty fish.
Foods to avoid
The Vertical Diet discourages foods it considers difficult to digest, as well as highly processed foods, including:
- Grains: brown rice, bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, wheat flour, unsoaked oats, etc.
- Legumes: unsoaked 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
- High-FODMAP vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, kale, etc.
- Sugar alcohols: erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, etc.
- Added sugar: candy, pastries, baked goods, soda, sports drinks, etc.
- Coffee: regular and decaf
- Other beverages: alkalized water
Keep in mind that the diet permits small amounts of some of these foods as long as your body can digest them without any digestive symptoms, such as gas or bloating.
However, processed vegetable oils are never allowed.
Grains, legumes, high-FODMAP vegetables, processed vegetable oils, sugar alcohols, added sugar, coffee, and alkalized water are discouraged on the Vertical Diet.
Sample meal plan
Here is a 3-day sample menu for the Vertical Diet. Remember that your number of meals may vary based on your training regimen and calorie needs.
- Meal 1: 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
- Meal 2: ground sirloin beef and white rice cooked in chicken stock, plus 4 ounces (120 ml) of orange juice
- Meal 3: chicken breast and sweet potato served with 4 ounces (120 ml) of orange juice
- Meal 4: grass-fed steak with white rice cooked in chicken stock and 4 ounces (120 ml) of cranberry juice
- Snack: Greek yogurt and baby carrots
- Meal 1: whole eggs scrambled with cheese, spinach, red peppers, and bone broth, served with boiled potatoes and 4 ounces (120 ml) of cranberry juice
- Meal 2: ground bison with white rice, sweet potato, and bone broth, alongside 4 ounces (120 ml) of orange juice
- Meal 3: chicken breast with white rice, sweet potato, bone broth, and an orange
- Meal 4: grass-fed steak with white rice, potatoes, zucchini, and bone broth, served with 4 ounces (120 ml) of cranberry juice
- Snack: whole milk and baby carrots
- Meal 1: whole eggs scrambled with cheese, spinach, red peppers, and salt, alongside overnight oats made with yogurt, milk, and optional raw honey and nuts
- Meal 2: ground sirloin steak with white rice, peppers, and chicken broth, served with 4 ounces (120 ml) of cranberry juice
- Meal 3: wild Atlantic salmon with white rice, spinach, peppers, and chicken broth, plus baby carrots and 4 ounces (120 ml) of orange juice
- Meal 4: grass-fed steak with white rice, sweet potatoes, and chicken broth, in addition to 4 ounces (120 ml) of cranberry juice
- Snack: Greek yogurt and berries
The 3-day sample meal plan above provides some dishes you can eat on the Vertical Diet.
The bottom line
The Vertical Diet is meant to help bodybuilders and other serious athletes gain muscle mass and improve performance.
It includes easily digestible foods to help your body absorb nutrients more efficiently and prevent digestive side effects, such as bloating. To boost protein and carb intake, it emphasizes eating increasingly large portions of red meat and white rice.
If you work out consistently and are looking for ways to boost muscle and gain weight, the Vertical Diet could be worth trying.