How Do Competitive Eaters Eat so Much? Nathan's Competitors Share Secrets

Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi chow down on hot dogs at the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2006.
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How do competitive eaters manage to accommodate massive volumes of food?

Takeru Kobayashi has won the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, which is held each year on Coney Island, New York, on the Fourth of July, six times, yet he weighs just 128 pounds. So what's his secret?

Kobayashi told The Associated Press that he uses H2O to train his stomach to expand.

"I have to put something inside the stomach to make it expand, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be food," Kobayashi explained. "I train with water."

That way, he added, he's not consuming huge amounts of food other than at competition time. 

Still, it takes its toll on his body.

“I feel so exhausted and so out of breath,” Kobayashi told the AP. “When my stomach becomes very full with that amount of food inside, the organs in my body begin to shift places."

He continued: "... My lungs get shifted up, and they can’t expand. They have no room to expand. So, when I breathe, I become very short of breath."

Others in the competitive eating business have different tricks. Derek Jacobs, who first qualified for the Nathan's contest in 2017, told Men's Health he likes to drink a lot of caffeine prior to competing. 

"[It] helps get you amped up, but also helps clear out anything left in your system," Jacobs explained. 

Ronnie Hartman, another Nathan's competitor, told Men's Health he loses weight in the lead-up to a contest. 

"I will lose about 3-5 pounds prior to a contest just to 'make room' for the calories I’m going to take in for a contest," he said.

You'd think with all the hot dogs they have to eat on the Fourth of July, competitive eaters would stay away from them the rest of the year. But that's not the case, said Joey Chestnut, the reigning Nathan's champ with 11 titles.

“It’s pretty rare for them to not be in our fridge, I have usually a good supply of all beef hot dogs,” Chestnut told People magazine. “I mean, there are times when I’m not eating buns if I’m on a low-carb diet. I’ll have hot dogs and romaine lettuce, but if I’m at a baseball game, I’m always eating a hot dog.”

He added: “It’s one of those things, like runners after they run a marathon like crazy 26 miles, they still like to run. And I still like to eat hot dogs.”


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