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The Vertical Diet Guide: Does It Fix Leaky Gut?

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When you are trying to build muscle in the gym, whether you are bulking, cutting, or just trying to get shredded, your diet can be as important as your workouts themselves.

Although there are many different diets and macronutrient ratios that competitive bodybuilders and even more serious weightlifters may follow, the Vertical Diet has become increasingly popular for those looking to build muscle, improve body composition, and support better digestion.

But, what is the Vertical Diet? Does the Vertical Diet work? Can the Vertical Diet improve digestion or fix leaky gut syndrome?

In this article, we will discuss what the Vertical Diet entails, how to follow it, and the Vertical Diet leaky gut connection.

More specifically, we will cover the following: 

  • What Is the Vertical Diet?
  • What Can You Eat On the Vertical Diet?
  • Benefits of the Vertical Diet
  • Drawbacks of the Vertical Diet

Let’s dive in! 

A muscular man lifting a barbell.

What Is the Vertical Diet?

The Vertical Diet is a dietary approach or nutritional system that was developed by Stan Efferding, a world-renowned powerlifter, bodybuilder, and nutrition coach.

Stan Efferding originally designed this diet to support the muscle growth, caloric needs, and body composition changes desired by competitive bodybuilders and powerlifters.

For example, this program has worked for strength athletes such as Brian Shaw, a four-time World’s Strongest Man winner.

What differentiates the Vertical Diet from other bodybuilding diets or bulking diets for powerlifters is that it is designed to reduce digestive distress often caused by consuming the caloric surplus and overall high volume of food and calories necessary for strength athletes in training.

Stan Efferding also designed this diet to ensure that micronutrient needs were also being met because many power athletes and bodybuilders focus primarily on protein and, to a lesser extent, the other two macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats) but do not place enough emphasis on meeting micronutrient needs.

The micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals, are crucial for not only supporting athletic performance and muscle growth but also for energy metabolism, a healthy immune system, cellular turnover, and overall health.

Since its inception, the Vertical Diet has become more mainstream, trickling down from competitive bodybuilders and powerlifters to everyday athletes and recreational weightlifters looking to build muscle, get a more chiseled physique, optimize performance in the weight room, and support better digestion on a healthy diet.

Cuts of red meat.

What Can You Eat On the Vertical Diet?

The Vertical Diet is named based on the visual appearance of how it is laid out, much in the way the original food pyramid was named.

The structure of this diet resembles an upside-down T, with foods under the base of the long side of the T and then foods in the upper-left and upper-right quadrants alongside the vertical portion of the stem of the letter T.

Underneath the long bar of the T at the bottom of the graphic, you find the vegetables, fruits, full-fat dairy, and starchy vegetables allowed. There are also a few other animal products, such as butter, chicken stock, and fatty fish, such as salmon.

Examples include spinach and dark leafy green vegetables, carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, cranberries, yogurt, whole eggs, and potatoes. 

These foods are intended to provide key vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) to support optimal hormone balance, organ health, immune health, and general overall well-being without causing digestive distress because they are low in FODMAPS.

Bioled eggs.

Foods high in fiber, sugar, or sugar alcohols can cause digestive distress, as can foods high in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs), such as onions, garlic, and cauliflower.

Along the vertical axis, red meat is found in the upper left quadrant, and white rice constitutes the entire upper right quadrant.

These foods provide the bulk of the protein, carbohydrates, and fats (macronutrients) as well as the majority of the calories in the Vertical Diet.

Almost the entire “red meat“ portion of the Vertical Diet consists of any cut of beef, but you will also find lamb, venison, and bison.

The number of servings of each section of foods in the Vertical Diet that you consume in your own personal diet depends on your body size, training, and physique goals.

You can use an online calculator to help you determine your total daily energy expenditure.

The Vertical Diet is rather restrictive and eliminates all of the foods that contain FODMAPs, lower micronutrient density, or potential antinutrients.

Leafy greens.

Here are some of the foods you can’t eat on this diet:

  • Grains, including whole grains and oats
  • Legumes, including beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans 
  • High-raffinose vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables
  • Garlic, onions, and other fruits and vegetables that contain FODMAPs
  • Coffee
  • Sugar alcohols
  • Vegetable oils that have been processed

Benefits of the Vertical Diet 

There are several potential benefits of following this diet.

The Vertical Diet is especially appropriate for bodybuilders, powerlifters, field athletes, and other strength athletes looking to gain muscle mass.

Additionally, this diet can be helpful for anyone who has difficulty digesting FODMAPs, or who has leaky gut syndrome.

Here is a list of the top benefits:

A bodybuilder flexing his muscles.

#1: May Help Promote Muscle Hypertrophy

A caloric surplus is usually necessary to build muscle, especially when coupled with resistance training.

However, eating enough food can lead to digestive issues. 

The Vertical Diet features easily-digestible foods and promotes a higher carbohydrate intake, which can help increase muscle growth, improve athletic performance, and prevent muscle breakdown after exercise.

#2: May Improve Leaky Gut Syndrome

The Vertical Diet leaky gut connection is another reason people choose to try this dietary approach. It can also be helpful for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

By eliminating most FODMAPs, the Vertical Diet can reduce digestive issues such as bloating, stomach cramps, constipation, and diarrhea.

Yogurt.

#3: The Vertical Diet Is Low in “Antinutrients”

The Vertical Diet is also touted to be low in antinutrients, which are considered to be compounds that impede your body‘s ability to absorb essential nutrients.

For example, lectins, which can be found in certain whole grains and legumes, are sometimes said to bind to and reduce the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium.

However, studies confirming that these compounds are indeed “antinutrients“ are mixed and generally not conducted with a scientifically sound methodology since they typically involve taking lectins or biotic acid in isolation rather than in conjunction with all of the other nutrients in foods.

This means that the results may not be transferable to real-life dietary recommendations.

Downsides of the Vertical Diet

There are also a few drawbacks to the Vertical Diet, including the following:

White rice.

#1: Limited Fiber Intake

Although some fruits and vegetables are found at the base of the Vertical Diet, many sources of fiber, such as beans, lentils, whole grains, and certain fruits and vegetables, are eliminated.

Diets high in fiber have been shown to provide numerous health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and helping to support healthy body weight.

#2: Eliminates Healthy Foods

Some of the other foods that are prohibited on the Vertical Diet are thought to be beneficial to your health. Examples include whole grains, oats, high raffinose vegetables, onions and garlic, and legumes.

#3: Limited Variety

One of the downsides is it is quite limited in food choices overall.

The restrictive nature can make the diet quite repetitive and can feel like you’re deprived of some of your favorite foods, which can impede long-term adherence and may compromise the diversity of the gut microbiome.

Additionally, because eating is part of our social culture, it can be difficult to stick with the diet when you are eating out, invited to holiday gatherings for other celebrations, or traveling where you might not have access to the limited foods on the Vertical Diet.

A person looking at their food, bored.

#4: Incompatible With Plant-Based Lifestyles

For bodybuilders or strength athletes who like to train on a plant-based diet, the Vertical Diet will be a non-starter. It centers upon consuming red meat, and some amount of full-fat dairy is also an integral component of the diet.

#5: Expensive to Sustain

Unfortunately, many healthy foods and healthy diets end up costing more per day to follow because of the price of high-quality food.

Although white rice is inexpensive, organic, grass-fed, high-quality red meat is quite expensive. This can make the Vertical Diet prohibitively costly for individuals with a limited budget.

Consider speaking to your healthcare or nutritionist about whether the Vertical Diet is suitable for you.

For other diets for strength training athletes looking to build muscle, check out our guide to the 40-40-20 diet here.

Two cut, muscular people.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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