If you’ve ever eaten to gain size and strength, then you know that bloating and digestive turbulence are often an unfortunate part of the equation. This is what IFBB Pro League competitor and champion powerlifter Stan Efferding had in mind when he set out to create the Vertical Diet—a way of eating to stimulate muscle growth and strength while eliminating gut issues

After a protein-heavy meal, it’s common to feel bloated, gassy, and cramped—and if you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter, this is bound to happen more often than not. It’s kind of like the digestive equivalent of delayed-onset muscle soreness the day after a tough workout, or calf pain when you climb stairs after leg day. The Vertical Diet, which includes mostly whole foods and focuses more on food’s nutrient density than macronutrients, aims to fix that. 

“The Vertical Diet is about eating nutrient-dense foods that are easily digestible to help you lose or gain weightmaximize workouts, and achieve better nutrient absorption overall,” says Efferding, who notes that digestive health is an often-overlooked aspect of dieting. 

No diet plan is perfect for everyone, but there are plenty of anecdotal success stories from Vertical Diet followers like amateur bodybuilder Garry Lodoen, who put on 30 pounds of stage weight over five years on the diet.

“At my most recent show, I had energy to spare,” Lodoen says. “Without doing any cardio, I was bigger and leaner than ever.” And he’s not alone: Strongman Brian Shaw, powerlifter Ed Coan, IFBB Pro League competitors Flex Wheeler and Nadia Wyatt, and CrossFit champs Ben Smith and Becca Voigt all swear by the diet strategy.

If you’re thinking of giving the Vertical Diet a go, here’s what you need to know about it.

Happy girl smiling and eating a healthy salad

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