What to eat, what to avoid and should you try the Vertical Diet? We'll tell you.
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If you want to look like a bodybuilder, The Vertical Diet & Peak Performance 3.0 created by Stan Efferding, a pro bodybuilder, might appeal to you. But is this trendy diet a way to eat healthier or bulk up the right way? Here we explain more about what the Vertical diet is, what foods you can and can't eat and if we recommend giving it a try.

3 chicken breasts, all cooked differently
Credit: Getty Images

What is the Vertical Diet?

The Vertical Diet is a way of eating designed to help athletes who are engaged in high-intensity activities consume a large number of calories they need to gain weight, increase muscle mass and strength and maximize workouts. It has recently been promoted as a weight loss regimen with followers including Camille LeBlanc, Crossfit Champion and former "fittest woman on the planet," Hafthor Bjornsson, who played "The Mountain" on Game of Thrones, and Lane Johnson, Offensive Lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The central premise of the diet is to eat nutrient-dense foods that the body likes—foods that are easily digestible and don't aggravate the digestive system. The thought is that sometimes foods just pass through the body and leave as waste. Eating foods that your body prefers, according to the Vertical Diet, will help you absorb the nutrients you're eating.

Also, when you limit the food variety in your diet, the Vertical Diet suggests that your body will become more efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients. The Vertical Diet also sell their own meals and proteins, like chicken and beef, that you can have delivered right to your house.

What Foods You Can Eat on the Vertical Diet

The two most commonly eaten foods on this diet are red meat and white rice for the following reasons:

  • White rice provides quick energy—it's easy and fast to digest.
  • Red meat offers iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins, as well as its muscle-building potential.

Specifically, the Vertical Diet encourages the following foods included:

  • Red meat, preferably grass-fed bison and beef. Skip pre-ground beef as it's usually made from scraps, according to Vertical Diet advocates.
  • Hormone-free chicken
  • Beef tallow and other "unprocessed" fats
  • Line-caught salmon
  • Eggs
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Low-gas vegetables, as defined by FODMAP diet, such as carrots, celery, spinach, cucumbers, and bell peppers
  • All fruits, with a focus on low-FODMAP ones such as oranges, grapefruits and strawberries
  • Sprouted or soaked legumes and oats, but only in small quantities

What Foods You Can't Eat on the Vertical Diet

  • Brown rice and other grains
  • Processed vegetable oils (which is essentially any vegetable oil)
  • Legumes, including soy, beans, peas, lentils and peanuts
  • Onions and garlic
  • Coffee
  • Added sugar and sugar alcohols
  • High-FODMAP vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and more

The Potential Benefits

The Vertical Diet emphasizes consuming high calories to increase energy and gain muscle mass. The diet also focuses on easy-to-digest carbs, like white rice, to provide a quick boost of energy, which athletes and bodybuilders need.

The Potential Drawbacks

While the Vertical Diet may offer some benefits, it also has several drawbacks, including:

Limited food variety

The Vertical Diet is extremely restrictive—limiting the variety of foods, in the long run, could lead to nutrient deficiencies and risk for chronic diseases. More importantly, many of the foods restricted include essential nutrients that are important for gut health, like fiber. Specifically, whole grains and a variety of vegetables are rich in fiber and offer numerous health benefits, including promoting regularity and satiety, preventing spikes in blood sugar levels and more.

May adversely impact gut health

Some research has shown the common strategies of a high protein, low fiber and simple carb diet may adversely affect the microbial makeup of the gut and in turn, impact one's athletic performance. A 2021 study published in Advances in Nutrition noted that consuming adequate fiber, protein and omega-3 fats may improve the athletes' health and optimize their performance. The same study also suggested that probiotics along with prebiotics, the food for probiotics are essential in maintaining the gut health of the athletes. Surprisingly, foods with prebiotics, such as garlic and onion, contradict the Vertical Diet.

High red meat consumption

A recently published research in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology found that individuals who consumed at least 1.1 servings more red meat and processed meat daily over the course of 12 to 26 years had a 22% higher risk of developing heart disease than those who did not. Researchers theorized that red meat contains high amounts of the amino acid derivative L-carnitine. When it reaches the gut and is metabolized by the gut bacteria, it produces a byproduct called TMAO, or trimethylamine N-oxide. TMAO in humans may be linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.

Affordability

While you don't necessarily need to purchase premade meals sold by Efferding's company, note that animal-based proteins such as red meat is pricey. And unfortunately, grass-fed and hormone-free meat costs even more—nutritionally speaking, they are not much different from their conventional counterparts. So, the question is, is it worth paying a premium to follow a diet that may or may not provide promising results?

Not suitable for vegetarians and vegans

The Vertical Diet also places an emphasis on meat consumption, so if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, this is not a suitable diet for you.

Bottom Line: Our Verdict

The Vertical Diet may provide short-term performance-related benefits, but it certainly does not support a lifestyle change. If you are an athlete engaging in high-intensity activities, you could possibly give the Vertical Diet a try with the support of a registered dietitian who specializes in sports and endurance. If you are an average gym-goer or looking for ways to manage weight or tone your body, you are better off eating a balanced diet that emphasizes a variety of foods including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy and alternatives, lean meats and plant-based proteins. Work with a registered dietitian to help you make sustainable lifestyle changes and set realistic goals that meet your health needs.