Recently, there have been some interesting diets, eating habits, nutritional philosophies, and protocols that have arisen out of the powerlifting and CrossFit communities. Their main purpose it to help fuel better performance amongst high-level athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. Amongst them, some have been backed by science, such as Intermittent Fasting (IMF), while others lack the clinical studies, to support their health claims, performance outcomes, and health efficacy such as IIFYM and Flexible Dieting. The latest one is Stan Efferding’s Vertical Diet.
What Is The Vertical Diet?
The Vertical Diet is focused around fueling athletic performance and building lean muscle mass through micronutrient optimization. The diet is designed for high-level athletes who want to improve strength, performance, and recovery. According to the diet’s founder, Stan Efferding, the vertical diet 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 your body’s demands.”
Here’s a visual to better understand. The Vertical Diet derives it’s name from it’s own version of the food pyramid, which is shaped as an upside down, “T”. Starting from the bottom, the base layer provides a solid foundation of highly bioavailable micronutrients. Micronutrients would be considered, the vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants that are found in fruits and veggies. Those micronutrients support the structure of easily digestible macronutrients (which consists of steak and white rice) which are represented as the vertical part of the upside “T”. That’s right, just steak and white rice. Sounds a bit like bro science to me, but let’s continue.
The Vertical Diet Nutritional Protocol #1: Quality Of Calories
First and foremost, the Vertical Diet stresses the fact that not all calories are created equal. Your body doesn’t use all of the nutrients you eat. Some are digested and some are wasted. The Vertical Diet centers itself around consuming those calories, in which your body is most efficient at processing so nothing you consume is wasted.
According to Efferding, the key macronutrient to increase athletic performance, are carbohydrates. He emphasizes, that your body can only get so much benefit from protein and fat and that carbohydrates are the key to fueling performance, increasing muscle mass, and improving recovery.
How The Vertical Diet Works
The Vertical Diet consists of two main food components; steak and white rice. Yes, just steak and rice! And a TON of it! Stan emphasizes the fact that ground beef and steak are not the same. Ground beef is comprised of ground animal parts, or scraps from which the center cuts (roast, sirloin, filet) are taken and therefore don’t fall within the criteria of ‘Quality Calories’. According to Efferding, steak is the only food that should be considered a “Super Food.” Since your diet should be focused on consuming the highest quality calories, steak is always better than ground beef and is not an acceptable substitute. Yet, he also notes that grass-fed beef and commercially grown beef have little to no difference in nutrient profile, therefore the difference doesn’t justify the cost. But, does the inflammation from hormones justify the cost? You be the judge.
The Vertical Diet Nutritional Protocol #2: Digestive Health
The Vertical Diet focuses on micronutrient optimization to provide the body with digestive efficiency, to maximize the utilization of macronutrients. Digestive and gut health provide the base to the Vertical Diet in order to minimize bloat and maximize nutritional uptake, to provide better gains for athletic performance. According to Efferding, you need an optimal acidic environment in the stomach to absorb micronutrients properly. Maximizing digestive efficiency is the idea.
But wouldn’t eating steak and white rice four times a day be hard on your stomach? Efferding says that the body will eventually adapt to the way you eat and become more efficient at digesting the steak and rice. Gradually your body becomes more efficient at utilizing those macronutrients, and you adjust by eating more once your body becomes acclimated. Also known as going, “Vertical”. Essentially, everything you eat will be consumed and used towards rebuilding and repairing muscle mass.
It’s important to remember that The Vertical Diet is for high-performance athletes who are training multiple times per day. Most elite athletes will be eating 4-5 meals of 6oz of steak and 1 cup of white rice per day. It also depends on how often and hard you’re training. But if you’re training multiple times per day, you’re putting down food at a very high-volume. Ultimately, the vertical diet has you constantly increasing your caloric intake of fast acting carbs. The logic is that as when you eat more, you recover faster, increase training volume, and optimize your gains.
Efferding also claims that protein and fast acting carbs diet will optimize gut health, correct nutrient deficiencies, and enhance athletic performance. However, it’s been proven that creating a better gut health is through providing your body with a rich and adequate amount of probiotics and prebiotics.
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The Vertical Diet Nutritional Protocol #3: Nutrient-Dense Bio-Available Foods
Efferding recommends you consume low gas vegetables, which will prevent bloating such as (Butternut squash, carrots, celery, parsley, zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, spinach, sweet potatoes) That being said, foods that contain a good micronutrient profile should only be used to fill the gaps, the Vertical Diet should not be based on these foods alone. But how can you create a base consistent of highly bioavailable micronutrients when you’re only eating steak and rice? Stan recommends filling the nutritional gaps with the easily digestible micronutrient packed foods below
- Eggs for good fats
- Baby Carrots for fiber
- Sweet Potatoes for pre-biotics
- Spinach for its highly dense micronutrient profile
- Fruit since it stimulates the liver
- Milk, hard cheese, and yogurt for calcium
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The Vertical Diet definitely provides some valuable insights when it comes to optimizing gut health and micronutrient intake. I do agree that building a diet with a foundation based on optimizing digestive health through highly bioavailable micronutrients is indeed critical for structuring a well-balanced healthy lifestyle.
However, without having any substantial clinical evidence to prove that the Vertical Diet can support its claims of fueling athletic performance, It’s honestly just a bunch of bro science and underhanded marketing. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence.
The Vertical Diet severely limits quite a few nutrient dense and micronutrient-rich foods. Instead of limiting and avoiding high-quality foods, you should try and fill your diet with them. High-performance athletes are already consuming protein and carbohydrate-rich diets, but restricting it to only white rice and steak seems a bit drastic and honestly unrealistic. I love steak and rice. Seriously I’m a huge fan of both. But, let’s not forget that a high amount of red meat (Especially at this volume) has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Not to mention, what happened to fiber? Fiber is one of the most important components when it comes to digestive health and the Vertical Diet only suggests carrots for fiber and restricts oats, beans, and whole grains.
The whole point of the Vertical Diet is to get you stronger by eating more, as your body digests food more efficiently. It must just be a coincidence then that The Vertical Diet provides meal prepping for a killer deal that starts around $60 per day, which is equal to around $420 per week, or $1680 per month, for steak and rice. Let’s not forget that as you get acclimated to digesting your food, you eat an even higher volume. Sounds like fucking robbery to me.
And the biggest problem with the Vertical Diet is that white rice is extremely nutrient poor.
“All white rice starts out as brown rice. A milling process removes the rice’s husk, bran, and germ. This process increases white rice’s shelf life but removes much of its nutrition, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. To counteract this, white rice is artificially fortified with nutrients. The refined grain is also polished to appear more palatable."
Overall, the Vertical Diet is just another restrictive diet plan, mixed with tricky marketing, and bro science.
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