It goes without saying, if you’re a serious athlete, your diet is going to have a huge impact on your performance.
I’m a firm believer that over the course of a year, if you consumed a perfectly calibrated diet, you would gain at least 1-2 additional inches on your vert just by doing all the little things right. You may gain substantially more.
I’ve compiled some really important evidence based, vertical jump specific diet pointers you should be aware of to get the absolute most out of your training.
1. Feed Your Fast Twitch Fibers
Your fast twitch muscle fibers are responsible for the athletic movement of the vertical jump and so it’s imperative we design our diet in such a way that gives extra care and attention to these type II fibers.
Vitamin D Makes You Jump Higher
It turns out that vitamin D is closely related to the overall performance of these fast twitch muscle fibers. Studies have shown that there’s a direct correlation between athletic performance and the peaking of vitamin D levels in the body.
One 2009 study also found the following.
Vitamin D also increases the size and number of Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers. Most cross-sectional studies show that vitamin D levels are directly associated with musculoskeletal performance in older individuals. Most randomized controlled trials, again mostly in older individuals, show that vitamin D improves physical performance.1https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19346976/
More importantly, a vitamin D deficiency is definitely going to cause a decrease in performance, so it’s imperative you at the very least avoid that.
Get plenty of sun and if that’s not an option for you, consider supplementation.
Eat Carbohydrates – Don’t Do Keto!
It’s no secret that your fast twitch muscle fibers prefer carbohydrates for fuel, far more so than your slow twitch fibers do.
Since we’re doing a ton of heavy lifting and explosive movements, we’re going to be primarily using our fast twitch muscle fibers and so it’s imperative we’re fuelling our bodies with carbohydrates.
This doesn’t mean we should start consuming ridiculous amounts of carbs, but what it does mean is that if you’re eating a keto or carnivore diet, you are doing your vertical jump a disservice!
There’s simply no adequate way to get your muscles the carbs they’re longing for when you’re restricting carbs so heavily. One such 2019 study concluded the following.
Short-term low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets reduce exercise performance in activities that are heavily dependent on anaerobic energy systems. These findings have clear performance implications for athletes, especially for high-intensity, short duration activities and sports.2https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29619799/
If that’s not a smoking gun for low carb diets and vertical jump performance, I don’t know what is.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do keto while training your vertical jump, just that it might not be quite as good as eating a high carb diet.
2. You Need To Be Ripped To Jump High
Look at all of the top jumpers in the world. With the exception of maybe Zion Williamson, they’re all absolutely shredded. As Paul Fabritz of PJF Performance says, “fat don’t fly!”
In order to maximize your vertical jump, you need to minimize your excess body fat. Plain and simple.
Back when I was testing my vertical jump each week, if I ever noticed I was a kilogram lighter before testing compared to the previous week, I’d get pretty excited because I knew my vertical jump would almost certainly be higher than it was before.
In terms of increasing your vertical jump quickly, the best short-term thing you can do for almost instant gains is to reduce your bodyweight.
Aim For Sub 10% Bodyfat
This is going to be extremely challenging for a lot of athletes. Some people’s genetic bodyfat ‘set point’ is naturally higher than others. For some people getting to 10% bodyfat will be a mission in and of itself, let alone maintaining it.
I’m also not saying you need to be 10% bodyfat year round. But if you want to maximize your vertical jump, you will need to be at least this ripped.
Michael Jordan was famously speculated to be sub 5% bodyfat for most of his career, so in an ideal world we want to be sub 10% bodyfat for maximum jump performance.
In order to do this and to maintain it, you’ll need to fully commit to diet for the long haul. It’ll take a lot of sacrifice to get there but your VJ performance will be phenomenal when you’re this lean.
Avoid Bulking & Cutting Aggressively
I think it’s a far better idea to do everything extremely gradually when it comes to cutting and bulking with respect to vertical jump athletes.
If you try to lose fat too quickly, chances are your strength will plateau or go backwards or you’ll open yourself up for injury or sickness.
When you’re cutting aggressively, you start getting very poor sleep, increasing cortisol like crazy, and it’s going to be very jarring on your training, performance, and overall development as an athlete.
Preserving strength at all costs should be your number one priority when losing fat and this can really only be done if you’re taking it nice and slow.
If you feel as though you need to gain strength and muscle, you also don’t want to put on a bunch of fat in the process, for obvious reasons.
Yo-yo dieting is simply not conducive to high performance. It’s far better to be stricter on your diet year-round and make smaller changes based on where you want to be.
Cutting: Scale Feedback, Mirror Feedback, & Some Calorie Counting
If you have some weight to lose, you don’t need to go overboard with counting calories. Since we’re only making minor changes and doing it gradually, we can rely more on scale feedback to gauge how effective our diet is. You don’t really want to be losing more than 1% of your bodyweight per week in order to hang onto as much muscle as possible.
Simply track your bodyweight every morning and take weekly progress pictures, or just look at yourself in the mirror. You’ll know based on that whether you’re losing weight too quickly or too slowly and you can modify calories accordingly. Only make caloric changes on a monthly or 3-weekly basis as oftentimes week to week fluctuations in weight/appearance are too small to allow us to effectively gauge how well the current protocol is working.
Bulking is the exact same except instead of being in a slight deficit, you’re in a slight surplus.
Kill Hunger With Low Caloric Density Foods
If your diet is configured to help you lose fat, the best diet hack I can give you is to seek out high volume low caloric density foods. When you incorporate these foods into your diet, you’re eating a lot of food volume, but not getting many calories in, allowing you to feel far more satiated and less hungry.
Broccoli, spinach, peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, lettuce, and unsalted popcorn are all excellent low calorie foods that you can eat an endless amount of and will barely make a dent in your daily calorie requirements.
A lot of professional bodybuilders when dieting for their show prep phase will start configuring their diet to be based around these foods.
Increase The Thermic Effect Of Food
The thermic effect of food is the idea that certain foods require more energy for your body to digest them. The thermic effect of protein is about twice as high as carbs – which means you body burns twice as many calories simply digesting protein than it does carbs.
So if you only ate 1,000 calories of protein per day instead of 1,000 calories of carbs, you’d lose roughly twice as much fat (it’s a little more complicated than this very simple example, but you get the idea).
Essentially, by eating a higher protein diet, your body is going to be working harder to digest your food, meaning you’ll increase your metabolism and start burning more calories.
So when you need to lose some extra fat, upping relative protein intake can be a good way to do it!
3. Keep Inflammation To A Minimum
Recovery is king, period.
If your muscles are sore and you have aches and pains, you probably have high levels of inflammation in the body and as a result your performance will suffer. Lower performance equals lower results.
So it’s important to reduce soreness and inflammation wherever possible and your diet is a great place to start.
This isn’t really rocket science and the gist of it is to avoid processed foods and instead eat a clean diet with real whole foods.3https://feedthemwisely.com/anti-inflammatory-foods-anti-inflammatory-diets
It’s really that simple. I think most people understand intuitively whether something is clean or not clean; you simply need to make the decision to stop eating processed crap and fast food and you’ll be doing just fine on this front.
4. Take The Right Supplements
We’ve already discussed how important vitamin D is for our fast twitch muscle fibers so if you’re unable to get enough regular sun exposure, you should 100% add vitamin D to this list of supplements.
Below is a list of the four most important supplements you can take for your vertical jump.
Creatine Will Increase Your Vertical Jump
This supplement was seemingly designed to make people jump higher. It’s the single most studied sports performance supplement of all time and is particularly beneficial when it comes to explosive anaerobic movements like the vertical jump and the strength exercises we do to boost it.
Creatine supplementation resulted in a significant improvement in peak power output during all 5 sets of jump squats and a significant improvement in repetitions during all 5 sets of bench presses.4https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29619799/
If you’re a serious athlete of any kind really, creatine is one of the most effective supplements you should 100% be taking.
Magnesium is a big player when it comes to overall muscle and nervous system function, and there’s vertical jump specific research to prove it.
The aim of this study was to test the hypoethesis that magnesium supplementation influences the physical performance of volleyball players, as the efficiency of this approach remains questionable.
Significant decreases in lactate production and significant increases (of up to 3cm) in countermovement jump and countermovement jump with arm swing values were detected in the experimental group following magnesium supplementation, but not in the control group.5https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24015935/
I’d recommend taking a ZMA supplement (which includes magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B6) to make sure you’re getting plenty of magnesium. This is also one of the better supplements for sleep which is a huge part of recovery.
Collagen/Gelatin + Vitamin C?
I got this one from PJF Performance’s video on improving tendon health. I honestly can’t tell you how effective it is because there’s only a little bit of research on it, but it’s definitely something interesting to take a look at.6https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oBTSuxggLc&ab_channel=PJFPerformance
The idea is that by combining gelatin (or collagen) with vitamin C approximately an hour before training, you can proactively improve tendon health which can help with prevention and treatment of tendinopathy, a very common jumping related ailment.
If I’m being honest, I’m in the ‘highly speculative’ camp on this one. Not because I think the science is bad, but because it’s really tough to gauge how much of an impact it’ll have. I hate recommending superfluous supplements that offer very little if any benefit, and I personally wouldn’t bother with this one, even if it looks quite promising on paper.
If you wanted to try it though, it certainly wouldn’t hurt and might actually be a pretty good idea if you have tendonitis!
Pre-workouts are a great way to optimize performance in the gym. I’ve used pre-workouts my entire training life and find I am able to get a far better workout in when I’m taking one.
Having said that, I recently made the decision to quit caffeine altogether in an attempt to improve my sleep quality. Sleep is a big weakness for me and after trying everything else and not getting any results, the last thing I could think of was to cut out caffeine entirely.
If I can get a decent workout but eight hours of sleep, this is far superior to having an amazing workout and only six hours of sleep.
So by all means take your caffeine but don’t do so at the expense of sleep. Sleep is simply too damn important!
If you’re lifting in the evenings or struggling with sleep, I would strongly consider quitting caffeine altogether or reducing your daily intake.
5. Think You’re Getting Enough Protein? Get More!
Most athletes don’t get enough protein in. It’s pretty simple to fix but requires you to be organized and proactive about planning your meals. Some pretty recent research (2018) indicates we should look to get 0.75 grams of protein in per pound of bodyweight per day if we’re interested in promoting muscle repair and growth, at a minimum.
Thus, athletes in energy-balance seeking to optimize the adaptive potential of their resistance-training programs are advised to first ensure that they are consuming ~1.6 g/kg body mass per day of protein, and tailor their dosing strategies to meet this overarching goal.7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852756/
I recommend eating at least four meals a day and getting at least 20 grams of protein in per meal. This not only ensures you’re hitting your protein requirements, but also promotes efficient muscle protein synthesis.
I believe that diet is one of the most overlooked aspects of becoming a high level athlete. Specifically when it comes to vertical jump training, it’s very common to see people overtraining as they’re playing countless hours of basketball each week, eating relatively poorly, and not getting enough sleep.
If you aren’t seeing the results you want, improving your diet is likely going to be an area that will directly correlate with improved performance. Not only will you get stronger quicker, but this will in turn lead to better and faster vertical jump gains.