Episode 57 – Thoughts On The Vertical Diet For Strength Athletes

Key Topics Covered

What is the Vertical Diet? 

  • Created by Stan Efferding – Successful bodybuilder and powerlifter
  • A “horizontal” diet – would theoretically be a diet that promotes a lot of food variety 
  • A “vertical” diet – is based on a limited number of foods chosen by Stan for specific reasons. 
    • The foundation of the diet is red meat and white rice. These two things really are the vertical component of the diet. 
  • The majority of the calories come from red meat and white rice.
  • Red meat is chosen because it is a quality protein source that is also higher in iron, B vitamins, and zinc than other micronutrients. 
  • White rice is chosen because it is an easily digestible form of carbohydrate. It allows you to have heaps of carbs without running into issues like bloating. 
  • The horizontal component of the diet is made up of comparatively small amounts of micronutrient-rich foods.  
  • It is mostly low FODMAP fruits and vegetables to limit gas build-up and therefore bloating/fullness.  
  • There are some other components such as small amounts of dairy, eggs, salmon, poultry, and olive oil to assist with meeting other micronutrient requirements.
  • Basically, the horizontal component is designed to meet micronutrient needs. But ideally, you do not go much above meeting those needs, since that could take away from the amount of red meat and white rice you could eat. 
  • There is also an emphasis on high sodium intake too. 

Proposed benefits 

  • Optimise gut health
  • Body composition
  • Performance

Criticisms of the Vertical Diet 

  • The easy criticism is the red meat component.  
  • You could get the exact same results with other protein sources if your total calorie and macro intake was the same. 
  • Narrowing down on red meat being super important has issues from not being very cost perspective, potential health (bowel cancer risk at minimum) and it’s not very ethical. 
  • The fact that red meat is slightly higher in protein and micronutrients per 100g falls apart a little bit when you consider that when your food intake is that high, you will have an abundance of protein and micronutrients regardless. White rice also has pretty much no micronutrients. It is kind of weird to obsess about the micronutrients in red meat, then ignore the lack of them in white rice.  
  • Staying mostly low-FODMAP unnecessarily has downsides. Saying it optimises gut-health, but then also having it have limited variety and be mostly low-FODMAP indefinitely is slightly contradictory. 

You could also argue it is needlessly restrictive. You can get exactly the same results without arbitrary rules.  

Positive Aspects Of It 

  • Easy to eat lots of calories from whole foods: It makes it easier for athletes with high calorie needs to reach those needs without having to rely on a lot of junk food – easy to eat, prepare, and less to think about  
  • Reduced bloating: But shouldn’t be mistaken for improved gut health 
  • It can be super easy to adjust if you are consistent  
    • e.g. if you have 5 meals that are the same each day, you can change your calorie intake by adding or removing stuff. This is simpler than tracking calories and being flexible. 
  • It has a good focus on micronutrients and performance 

Realistically, there are pretty much zero downsides from a body composition or performance perspective from this dietary approach.  

All the criticisms are related to other aspects, not actually the impact on body composition or performance. 

Key Takeaway Points

  • Overall it is a really simple and effective way to approach nutrition for performance and body composition changes  
  • It can also have the benefits of reducing bloating 
  • BUT we wouldn’t necessarily encourage eating that much red meat OR limiting your variety of plant-based foods to that extent 
  • It is a pretty restrictive way to eat overall  

Relevant Links/ Resources

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