Joey Chestnut and Dogs - © 2017 Nathan's Famous

How Competitive Eaters Manage Their Feats Of Glottony

I caught a CBS News story this morning about the monumental amount of Calories competitive eaters consume. I was shocked that such an ancient and venerable news organ as CBS missed the key point altogether. There’s eating, and then there’s ‘eating’…

Nathans Contest - © 2022 Julia Nikhinson APJoey Chestnut (left) and Women’s Division Camp Miki Sudo pose with platters of Dogs representing
what they downed to retain their Nathan’s Famous championships.

Well, Joey Chestnut (see photo, top of page) managed to hold onto the Nathan’s Famous July 4 Hot Dog Eating Championship yesterday.  This year, he managed to choke down 62 dogs with buns to capture his 16th consecutive Nathan’s Contest championship. Miki Sudo downed 39.5 dogs to win her 9th straight women’s title. women’s competition for the 9th straight time.

My analysis… Joey’s all-time winning total was 76 Dogs in 10 minutes. That was several years ago. He’s either passed his prime as a competitive eater or decided to go for a longer, safer career. Competitive eating has its drawbacks, we ‘ll discover later in this post…

The contest has been a staple of Independence Day fun since 1916 when a couple of Coney Island regulars at Nathan’s first put down wagers on how many Dogs one of them could eat. And it’s credited with spawning the the craze for competitive eating – of all kinds of foods – that American society embraces today.

The CBS story…

The story, by Sara Moniuszko, in the CBS News Healthwatch slot, focuses on the Calorie count of the mountains of food competitive eaters consume. Sara breaks it down thus:

“According to the nutrition facts of Nathan’s products, a serving size of one Original Coney Island natural casing beef frank contains 170 calories (according to the company’s website; other varieties vary) and one of Nathan’s restaurant style buns contains 130 calories. That means for the 63 hot dogs and buns Chestnut gobbled down last year, the calories of the franks would have equaled 10,710 and the buns added another 8,190 calories — for a grand total of 18,900 calories consumed. That’s nearly six times the recommended daily average for a man his age and size.

“For his record-setting year, with 76 hot dogs and buns, his total would have reached a whopping 22,800 calories!”

Sounds unbelievable. But wait. There’s more…

The training regimen

There is a common training regimen among competitive eaters which involves stretching the stomach to accommodate the maximum amount of food. Competitors commonly force-feed themselves huge quantities of, ” low-calorie foods and liquids including water, diet soda, watermelon and cabbage,” Sara reveals.

But nobody’s stomach – even Joey’s – can continue to expand indefinitely.

Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. James Smoliga of High Point University in North Carolina predicted that 84 standard Nathan’s hotdogs will prove to be, “the maximum possible limit for a Usain Bolt-type performance”.

Smoliga compared the data from the Nathan’s contest with known growth curves from other elite sports to determine where Hot Dog Eating fits in. His analysis resulted in performance evolution curves that corresponded closely to those for other high-performance sports.

The aftermath

Once the eating contest is over and the winners are declared, and the trophies are awarded, the event is still far from over.

Side effects of competitive eating can include: nausea, painful gas, vomiting, heartburn and diarrhea. More serious side effects could include choking, esophageal inflammation and stomach rupture.

But dear Sara left out one incredibly important detail in her Calorie-based story. The contestants don’t just sit back with a beer and digest what they’ve ingested.

The dirty little secret of competitive eating is, competitors retire to a private place after the show, and throw up the stuff they’ve just consumed. They call it ‘vacating’.

That’s how eaters such as Joey Chestnut manage to keep their trim figures and happy dispositions.

My take

Viewed from one angle, competitive eating contests appear to be as ‘fake’ as ‘professional’ wrestling or reality TV shows. The competitors consume but don’t actually eat the object foods.

It’s fun to follow the July 4 antics of Joey Chestnut and his challengers. But we we shouldn’t try to ‘do as they do’.

In fact, Major League Eating, the world body that oversees professional eating contests, warns the curious not to attempt the feats of gluttony their eating-contest heroes routinely accomplish.

“The league believes that speed eating is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older and only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present. […] MLE strongly opposes and discourages home training of any kind. MLE also strongly discourages younger individuals from eating for speed or quantity under any circumstances. MLE urges all interested parties to become involved in sanctioned events – do not try speed eating home.”

~ Maggie J.