Is the Vertical Diet Better than Keto for Muscle Building?

Athletes need muscle
Athletes need Muscle

Although I live a low carb lifestyle, not everyone in my family wants a long, lean physique. Both of my kids are athletes and both want to build muscle and strength. While there’s nothing about the keto lifestyle that prevents building muscle, it’s much harder to add size without carbs. That said, not all carbs are equal and including the wrong ones can undermine any health goals. That’s what attracted me to the Vertical Diet, it had all the healthy aspects of keto with a few carbs for building muscle.

Gaining Muscle as an Elite Athlete

My son has always struggled to gain weight. As a tall kid and a year-round athlete, he could eat anything and stay lean. When I wrote this article he was 6’9″ and weighed only 210 lbs, at 18 years old. He was enrolled at IMG, an elite prep school for basketball. As one of the top prep schools in the country for high school basketball, he received top-notch strength training and had access to an unlimited meal plan, snacks, and extra food in his room at all times.

In the first few months, he added about 10 lbs of muscle and I watched as his body transformed. According to his coaches, the only thing more shocking than the weight gain was how much he was eating! His coach called one day and said he’s never seen a basketball player eat that much, he was eating like the linebackers.

Curse of a Fast Metabolism

His insatiable hunger was due to his naturally fast metabolism (from his mama) and rigorous training schedule. Either way, he was happy to gain the weight and strength that came with it. As a big man, it made battling under the basket much easier.

Three months in his weight gain plateaued. Despite his best efforts, he said he just couldn’t eat any more meals or cram down any more calories than he already was with three meals a day and constant snacking.

It was at that point that we realized that we might need help. Although IMG was great at developing his basketball IQ and skills, they didn’t have a solution at the time for his concerns other than just eating more food… which he felt like he couldn’t do.

Bodybuilding Lessons

When I began my journey in fitness it was at a Gold’s Gym surrounded by bodybuilders. They were professionals at bulking and cutting weight. It was this insight that led me to look for expertise in the bodybuilding world. I needed someone who knew how to build muscle, without steroids, and without losing speed. I did some research and came across Stan “Rhino” Efferding on IG and the Vertical Diet.

Lynn Kidd, eating the Vertical Diet
My son, after gaining 10 lbs on the Vertical Diet

I send Stan a DM and asked for advice. He replied the same day and with his advice and his prepared meals, my son gained 10lbs over two months.

Stan “Rino” Efferding – Vertical Diet

Stan Efferding creator of the vertical Diet

At first, I thought Stan Efferding was just another bodybuilder. As it turns out, Stan is somewhat of a celebrity in the bodybuilding and powerlifting world. He holds several titles, including the World’s Strongest Bodybuilder. Beyond his personal accomplishments, he has a reputation for training some of the top athletes in the world and he’s known for helping elite athletes get stronger and add muscle while staying lean.

Stan Efferding founder of the Vertical Diet
Stan Efferding is an IFBB Professional bodybuilder and World Record Holding Powerlifter. He is one of only 10 men in the world to ever total over 2,300 pounds raw in competition. Stan holds the title as the Worlds Strongest Bodybuilder. 

What stood out to me was that he was obviously a huge guy, with a lot of muscle but he is also really lean. He doesn’t look bloated like a lot of bodybuilders. This was exactly what my son wanted, more size without extra weight that would slow him down or reduce his jumping ability.

This is where the vertical diet really stood apart from other meal plans.

Vertical Diet – Simple but Effective

Vertical Diet image
Basics of the Vertical Diet

The Vertical Diet focuses on nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest and help drive muscle hypertrophy. Of course, this diet is meant to be used in combination with a solid strength program. It’s limited to mostly red meat, salmon, and eggs as protein. White rice and potatoes are the main sources of carbs with orange juice and cranberry juice also contributing carbohydrates.

Other foods like carrots, oranges, spinach, peppers, and orange juice are included for their vitamin profiles and ease of digestion. High-quality Kerigold butter, Redmonds Real salt, and chicken stock add other nutrients and healthy fats.

Stan says he selected these foods for the (1) nutrient density, (2) ease of digestion, and (3) low likelihood of triggering bloating or gas. That explains the lean, not ‘bloated’ look. Stan explains the Vertical Diet in detail in his ebook.

The diet builds upon a solid foundation of highly bioavailable micronutrients to enhance metabolism and overall digestive health. This foundation of micronutrients supports a  structure of easily digestible macronutrients that can be adjusted specifically to meet your body’s demands.

High-Quality Foods in Vertical Diet

Stan emphasizes the quality of these foods, especially the meat and eggs. With the Vertical Diet or any other diet for that matter, you should be looking for grass-fed meats, free-range and pasture-raised eggs and organic dairy, fruits, and vegetables.

The reason for the emphasis on grass-fed and pasture-raised is that the vitamin profile and bioavailability of these foods can vary drastically. An animal that consumes grain, soy, and corn will not have the nutrient profile of a pasture-raised animal eating grasses. It’s not a subtle difference, it’s a drastic difference in nutrients.

Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef infographic

Red Meat?

Stan isn’t alone in his love affair with red meat. Besides Stan’s vocal support of the nutritional superiority of red meat vs. chicken and pork, there are several other adamant supporters. Dr. Paul Saladino and Dr. Shawn Baker, among others, have been advocating the benefits of red meat and challenging the science that vilified it in the first place.

It’s an interesting conversation. On a personal level, I eat a lot of grass-fed and grass-finished red meat, it’s a staple in my house.

A great book to check out on the topic is the Carnivore Code by Dr. Salidono. I’ve been scared to read it to be honest because I’m on the verge of going mostly carnivore myself and I’m worried it might push me over the edge, lol. I just bought it thought…and after I finish my current book, The Upside of Stress it’s next in line.

Carnivore Code book by Dr Paul Saladino
I’ve been scared to read this for fear I will turn into a true Carnivore… but it’s time.

Who Can Benefit from the Vertical Diet

Although Stan’s website emphasizes that anyone can benefit from the Vertical Diet, I think it’s really designed for people who want to add muscle. That means it may not be your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. I still think Keto and Carnivore diets win for weight loss. But, it might be an ideal diet for someone in your life who’s trying to add muscle and strength. Especially athletes. The additional carbs in the Vertical Diet can make weight gain and muscle building easier.

That said, most bodybuilders go through building and cutting phases. It’s a myth that you can both build and lean out simultaneously. You can, but one process or the other gets compromised until you get near your maintenance weight.

Strong women with muscles
Women need muscle too!

Bottom line, if you’re really struggling to build muscle mass, it might be worth trying the Vertical Diet to build some muscle, then going back to something like the keto diet to lean back out. If you’re new to strength training, check out the Lazy Biohacker Workout to learn more about how to start a strength program.

What My Son Did – Meal Delivery

Prepared Meals from Excelev8

One of the main be benefits of the Vertical Diet is the meal delivery option. For my son, adding another meal every day of high-quality food was what helped him gain the weight he wanted.

For the record, we had tried adding another meal every day prior to ordering these meals. That was really the only recommendation I got from IMG coaches and college coaches recruiting him… “just tell him to eat more”. He forced down peanut butter sandwiches, chicken and rice, and shakes after dinner as a fourth meal, but it wasn’t working.

Meals Delivered

I ordered him 7 meals at a time and had them shipped to him at school. They arrived frozen and went right into a mini freezer in his room. He’d eat one every night before bed and over the course of a few months, he was able to successfully gain another 10 pounds of muscle. Even better, he didn’t hate eating them.

By the way, you can totally cook the food yourself, Stan will tell you that himself. Unfortunately, at that time my son didn’t have access to a kitchen so it wasn’t an option for us.

The meals are sold on the Excelev8 website. There is also a Vertical Diet cookbook and handbook you can purchase on the same site.

**For the record… I have zero financial affiliation with Stan Efferding or the Vertical Diet Meals or books. This article is purely based on my experience helping my son gain muscle. Stan was kind enough to not only chat with my on IG, he took my phone call and helped me think through some option. I’m forever grateful for his help.

Other Efferding Tips

Costco grocery Haul
  • 10 Minute Walks – Stan evangelizes the benefits of 10 minute walks throughout the day, and post meals.
  • Sleep – If you’re struggling with your sleep, check out this article I wrote about Bioacking your Sleep.
  • Spinach – Keep your bag or box of spinach in the freezer to keep it from spoiling and it blends up better in smoothies.
  • Costco – Has great deals on all Vertical diet ingredients, especially high-quality red meat.
  • Ground Bison – I was skeptical about this, but I found it at Publix and Costco and really like it.
  • On the go – Stan recommends using a thermos to take meals on the go.
  • Orange Yogurt Drink – Stan mixes orange juice and yogurt together and describes it as taking like an orange creamsicle… let me know if you try it:)
  • Monster Mash – See the recipe below…
How to make Monster Mash

Kelly is a shameless critic of the 'weight loss' industry that profits from women being overweight, unhappy, and confused. Kelly has spent the last 20 years as an industry under and seen the damage misinformation can do in women's lives first hand. After her own personal journey back to health, Kelly created this space in love to help other women to access the science of biohacking to achieve an ideal weight, look younger and bring their spirit back to life. Kelly is a mother of two, fitness executive, and road warrior.

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