Over the past two decades, Major League Eating (MLE) revolutionized competitive food eating into real sports. Unique contests are held throughout the United States for specific food items, each with high money stakes. For many competitors, it’s a full-time job to push their body’s limitation for nearly inhumane tasks. One hundred and three hamburgers in eight minutes, one hundred eighty two chicken wings in thirty minutes, three hundred ninety shrimp won in eight minutes, and seventy four hot dogs in ten minutes – world records set by only one individual, Joey Chestnut. To many, the sport is understandably disgusting and wasteful. Yet, it’s hard to turn your eyes away from a competition where people are required to shove incredible amounts of food down their throats in a short time span. If you’re like me, you’re left with some valid questions: How do they train for this? Are these people really humans? Wait, why isn’t any of these competitors fat? Can I do this?
The short answer is no. Nodbody should try this. Scientifically, it’s almost anatomically impossible and possibly dangerous. Just like any other sports, it requires a strict training regime, a strong mental approach, and a will to just push through.
During a barbecue in the backyard, a normal person often consumes three hot dogs to feel full. Around forty minutes to an hour, a regular brain will release leptin, a hormone that gives the sensation of satiety. Now imagine multiplying the daily intake by approximately twenty three and you’ll be where Joey Chestnut is. An average human stomach can hold approximately one liter of food and stretch about fifteen percent. On the other hand, competitive eaters must first train to expand their stomachs up to four liters to hold all the food. During the preseason, they often chug two gallons of water in three minutes to stretch their stomach. As the season progresses, competitors either increase the amount of gallons or replace water with a heavier substance such as chocolate milk. Liquids are chosen due to their low calorie intake and ability to cycle throughout the body quicker to relieve immediate discomfort. The athlete’s daily willpower to stretch their stomachs not only increases its volume but also down regulates the body’s ability to release leptin. In return, the individual doesn’t have the sensation of being full and avoids nauseousness.
Don’t forget that the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is also a race against time. While food eating competitors may seem like they’re swallowing their hot dogs, they’re limited to their human physiology. For solid food to go smoothly down the esophagus and into the stomach, a human must chew the food up into a small ball of digestible material called the bolus. The masseter muscle is the sole player that allows the jaw to open/close and grind to break down the food. For this sole reason, Joey Chestnut makes sure that his jaw muscles are in top notch shape. Although most competitive eaters chew four to five pieces of gum at a time throughout the day, he chews on a silicone ball that is usually handed out by dentists to patients dealing with jaw joint instability. Furthermore, he practices his chewing motion while allowing heavy weights to hang from his teeth. Although extreme, his training regime lets him bit with two hundred eighty pounds of force, grinding the hot dogs at a quicker pace.
Additionally, if imagine a person being able to consume seventy four hot dogs to be obese. Yet, looking across the podium, it’s difficult to find anyone who is not in good shape. Joey Chestnut is six foot and one inches, but weighs two hundred twenty pounds. Takeru Kobayashi, six time champion of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, stands only five feet, eight inches and only weighs a hundred twenty eight pounds. Ranked third in the Major League Eating, Matt Stonie has nearly identical height and weight of Kobayashi. Scientific research proposed that leaner bodies have an advantage over those who are overweight. It’s called the belt of fat theory (BFT). As mentioned earlier, the stomach is a very elastic organ. Competitors train to stretch the stomach four times its normal size. However, the belt of fat theory states that fat around the abdominal region and lower back can actually act as a limiting factor. Think of it as a balloon. A balloon can expand in open space until it reaches its physical limit. However, if the balloon is pumped inside a backpack, it will expand until it touches the backpack’s walls. For this reason, serious food competitors make serious time to practice cardio, lift weights, and analyze their diets. It not only helps them develop a lean body but also increases their metabolism of their digestive tracts.
Consequences to Body
With this amount of physical and metabolic strain to the body, do competitive eaters have a normal anatomy? To a certain extent, the answer is no. A normal human stomach unceasingly performs wavelike contractions that allows food to move down the digestive tract, a process called peristalsis. However, Joey Chestnut and other famous food eaters repeatedly stretch their stomachs to expand and consume beyond satiety. This not only desensitizes the body’s release of leptin, but also eliminates peristalsis. Without these muscular contractions, the individual can relax the stomach to act as a trash bag of food rather than pushing it towards digestion.
Furthermore, the expansion of the stomach often pushes other organs around the thoracic area. Around thirty to forty hot dogs in, many individuals state that the stomach pushes against the lungs and consequently restricts breathing. Therefore, competitors often try to find a good rhythm of when to breathe, chew, and swallow. It’s almost a unique art form. Additionally, competitors also confess the idea of gagging. Forcing down additional foods beyond the state of satiety initiates the pharyngeal reflex. Many individuals train their esophagus to relax, a practice observed in sword swallowing. However, after a certain point, it becomes a topic of determination and self-discipline.
As you can imagine, chowing down enormous amounts of hot dogs is not healthy. Yet, our body does a wonderful job of adjusting. The small intestine, large intestine, and the liver does an outstanding job absorbing what the body requires and expunging the rest. The stomach also naturally constricts back to its regular size after couple of days with a regular diet. Many often choose vomit after the competition to alleviate immediate discomfort as well. One can only imagine what the disastrous bathroom aftermath would look like.
About Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
Every Fourth of July, thousands of people flood onto the Coney Island Boardwalk with their foam hot-dog hats and hand-written posters. ESPN analysts, news broadcast networks, and international stations all place their cameras in front of the raised platform. In a sense, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is the Olympics or World Cup of all major food eating competitions. It’s the best against the best. Approximately twenty men and fifteen women who qualified in world-wide contests, get to compete in this event. Only the first five winners receive a monetary prize, ranging from ten thousand (first place) to one thousand (fifth place). The rules are fairly simple. Each competitor has ten minutes to consume as many hot dogs as possible. Both the buns and the sausage must be fully consumed to be counted onto the score board. Any signs of the food coming out the other way, such as puking, results in instant disqualification. At the end of time regulation, any food remaining in the contestants mouth must be swallowed clean or will not be counted. In the case of an unfortunate tie, contestants must have a eat-off of five hot dogs to determine the champion. Joey Chestnut, MLE’s undisputed number one ranked competitive eater and twelve time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion, currently holds the world record at seventy four hot dogs.
Obviously, competitive eating is no laughing matter. These competitors, much like athletes, transform their physical bodies to reach their goals. For those of you who disregard this warning, please do be careful. With new techniques and training regimes, these crazy records are only projected to be broken by this upcoming generation. Call it insane, nauseating, and even reckless. However, for fans like me, we just can’t get enough!