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What is the Vertical Diet and How Does It Support Athletes?

The vertical diet combines micronutrients with high bioavailability with easily digestible macronutrients to optimise your performance.

The vertical diet is a nutritional framework that prioritises performance and was designed to be “simple, sensible, and sustainable.” It was designed as a solution for people who require big amounts of calories (such as athletes wishing to gain muscle and strength, achieved by being in a calorie surplus) without upsetting gut health.

The concept it thoroughly explained in a 2021 book under the same name co-authored by professional bodybuilder Stan Efferding and registered dietitian Dr Damon McCune.

The vertical diet has a strong foundation of “highly bioavailable micronutrients to enhance metabolism and overall digestive health,” coupled with “easily digestible macronutrients that can be adjusted specifically to meet your body’s demands.”

What is the vertical diet?

The vertical diet is a performance-based approach to nutrition. It aims to improve energy, stamina, endurance and recovery by prescribing the consumption of whole foods. It also claims to correct nutrient deficiencies and hormone imbalances, as well as optimise gut health.

The diet is not really about losing weight, but about supporting strength and muscle building.

It gets its name from the idea that, the more training you do, the higher your caloric needs will be (vertical). The representation of the diet is laid out like an upside-down T, with red meat and white rice at the top, on the vertical axis.

You should be able to meet most of your caloric and macronutrient needs through those two.

At the bottom of the graph (under the T) are vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers and almonds, which are there to help digestion and other bodily functions. Essentially, foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

slices of red meat are essential to the vertical dietSource: John Cameron on Unsplash

The authors, however, are clear that the principles of the vertical diet can be used to improve and optimise any other diet program. They acknowledge that this isn’t a magic diet, but that being easy to follow, it has high chances for success as most diets fail because of lack of compliance.

“A successful diet isn’t something you go on and off,” Stan Efferding explains, “there is no finish line. The behaviours that make you successful need to become part of your lifestyle.”

“The number one predictor of success,” Efferding explains about the best diet, “is compliance.”  

What do you eat on a vertical diet?

The main staples of the vertical diet are white rice and red meat as the macronutrients, and micronutrients in the form of spinach, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and oranges, between others.  

The diet recommends reducing or avoiding the consumption of short-chain carbohydrates, which may lead to digestive disorders.

What you can eat

  • Red meat
  • White rice
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Potatoes
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Oranges
  • Cranberries

What you can’t eat

  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Garlic and onions
  • White meat
  • White fish
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Processed vegetable oils
  • Coffee

Additionally, oats and legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are only allowed if soaked and fermented.

Starting out with the vertical diet

  1. Figure out your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you consume at rest) and match this with your meals.
  2. Add calories based on your training regime. For athletes wishing to build strength and muscle, a calorie surplus is necessary.
  3. Add more calories as your body adjusts to the diet to continue to support training and recovery. You can either increase your portions of rice and meat or include an additional meal in your days.
  4. Repeat until you’ve reached your goal, then maintain.
sproutSource: Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

Vertical diet considerations

While the diet can help people with gastrointestinal conditions, it is unclear if this approach to nutrition is good for the general population as it can result in reduced micronutrient intake through its restrictions.

In addition to potential micronutrient deficiencies, the diet excludes important sources of nutrients such as legumes, is limited in variety, and low in fibre.

Variety in your food is generally advised as the key to a healthy nutrition plan.

The vertical diet is also inappropriate for vegans and vegetarians, and can be an expensive diet to follow.

Claims about correcting nutrient deficiencies and hormone imbalances are not yet sufficiently backed by science and there isn’t a lot of compelling scientific evidence yet to cover the long-term effects of following the vertical diet.

Athletes that have followed the vertical diet

According to the vertical diet website, these athletes have followed the diet:

The best diet

There are many paths to the same destination and there are many great diets out there. Choose a nutrition approach that aligns with your goals and, most importantly, a diet you can follow long-term.

Read more: How to Diet? 4 Popular Diets, Research, Benefits and Considerations

Disclaimer: the content in this article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a qualified professional before making big changes to your diet.

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