9 Tips to Win a Competitive Eating Contest

69 hot dogs and buns in under 10 minutes. How do they do it? In honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog eating contest, let’s explore the science behind what makes a successful competitive eater.

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #198

528 oysters in under 10 minutes. 8 pounds of bacon in 8 minutes. 113 pancakes in 8 minutes. 14.5 burritos in 10 minutes. Competitive eating is a serious sport that requires training, preparation and discipline to come out a champion.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the annual Nathan’s Famous 4th of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island. Last year, an estimated 35,000 fans came out to watch two intense competitors win the title from record holding champions.

In the women’s competition, Miki Sudo ate 38 hot dogs, beating out Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas who holds the women’s world record for consuming 45 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. According to her website, Thomas also holds the world records for 15 extra large hard-boiled eggs in 1 minute and 43 jalapeno peppers in 1 minute, records she notes represent any gender. In the men’s competition, Joey Chestnut holds the record for 69 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and Buns in 10 minutes. However, last year, Matt Stonie pulled an upset and won with 62 hot dogs to Chestnut’s 60.

So how do they do it? In honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog eating contest, let’s explore the science behind what makes a successful competitive eater or, as they are known in the game, “gurgitator.”

1. Train your stomach to expand

Our bodies have what’s called a satiety reflex—once we fill our stomachs to a certain capacity, usually around 1 liter of food, our brain is triggered with the message that we are full. Adding any more food to the mix runs the risk of causing what Major League Eating calls a “Roman incident” or “urges contrary to swallowing.”

Competitive eaters can overcome this reflex by training their stomachs to expand, often by drinking larger and larger amounts of water in short periods of time. Eventually even peristalsis, the muscle movements that push food along through the digestive tract, can be stalled allowing for larger food intake.

The above results were witnessed firsthand in an anecdotal study for National Geographic (published in the Journal of Roentgenology). Doctors observed what happened to the stomach of a competitive eater versus a “control,” a man described as just having a “healthy appetite.” In describing the technique employed by the competitive eater, Dr Marc Levine, a gastrointestinal radiologist and a co-author on the study told Time, “This was not some inherent skill he had since he was a child. For many months he would practice by eating larger and larger volumes of food.”

2. Work out your jaw muscles

Along with training their stomachs, competitive eaters also need to work out their jaws. Consuming 69 hot dogs in under 10 minutes requires a lot of chewing. A LOT. Some competitors chew 20 plus pieces of gum at once in order to build up jaw strength.

Also, the rules of most competitions state that everything counts toward your total as long as you get it in your mouth before the buzzer, as long as you can swallow it in the next 30 seconds. Sometimes that can be the difference between winning and losing.

3. Keep yourself cool

This tip may seem impossible, since many competitive eating competitions are held in the summer often to maximize the number of spectators. However, if your body is overheated, you tend to eat less. You may notice some competitors, like those in the the Nathan’s Famous 4th of July contest, will douse themselves in ice water beforehand to keep cool. Temperature changes are often to blame for why the winner of a competition may fall far short of a world record, even if they are the one who set the record in the first place.

4. Perfect your technique

How you use your hands is also an important part of competitive eating. Being able to fit unlimited burritos into your stomach does not matter if you cannot get the food in there fast enough.

Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi is credited with the “Solomon Technique,” which involves breaking a hot dog in half before putting both halves into your mouth at once, separately from the bun. This method requires less chewing and makes swallowing easier, while getting the entire hot dog in your mouth faster. At the Nathan’s Famous event, you will also notice eaters shoving hot dogs into their mouth with one hand while dunking a bun in water with another.

Many competitive eaters even watch playback video of themselves and others to see what step in the process seems to take them the most time.


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About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr Sabrina Stierwalt earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Cornell University and is now a Professor of Physics at Occidental College.