We Haven't Reached the Limits of Hot Dog Eating Just Yet, Research Suggests
On July 4, Joey Chestnut absolutely destroyed the competition at the annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest, downing 75 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to break his own world record by a single wiener. In the women's division, Miki Sudo set her own record, by eating 48.5 hot dogs, a total which would've been good enough for second place on the men's side.
Chestnut won by an astounding 33 hot dogs over his closest competitor which, according to ESPN, was the biggest margin of victory since the contest split into separate men's and women's divisions in 2011. "It was hard," Chestnut said. "I knew I was fast in the beginning. It was like blistering speed. And the dogs were cooked really well today [...] This is a crazy year, and I'm happy I was able to get a record."
A lot of us probably don't eat 75 hot dogs in, like, a single calendar year, let alone 10 minutes—but according to a newly published research paper, humans are capable of eating even more hot dogs, even faster. Dr. James Smoliga, the associate director of the Human Biomechanics and Physiology Laboratory at High Point University, studied data from 39 years of the Nathan's Famous contest, and used those numbers to predict "the upper limit of performance" for a highly trained competitive eater.
To determine that "upper limit" for hot dog eaters, Smoliga used one of the statistical models that were created by Stanford University biologist Mark Denny—although Denny used his models to calculate the maximum attainable running speeds for racing greyhounds, thoroughbred horses, and elite (human) athletes.
"Though often perceived as an entertaining spectacle of gluttony, nearly four decades of data from the event provide insight into the limits of human gut capacity and its intra-individual plasticity," he wrote in the paper, which was published in the journal Biology Letters. "I use previously established mathematical models to determine how many hot dogs a human can rapidly consume and demonstrate that this is owing to plasticity in gut capacity."
Smoliga determined that the maximal active consumption rate (ACR) increases in competitive eaters (compared to those of us who half-heartedly chew an occasional hot dog at a family cookout) because pro-level eaters diligently prepare their bodies for these events. Chestnut has said that he starts his training for Nathan's at the end of April, and puts himself through a simulated contest every weekend.
That's a relatively recent development: according to Smoliga, the first winners of the contest tended to be “big obese guys” who won with unimpressive single-digit totals. Starting in 2001, the contest was dominated by the impossibly lithe Takeru Kobayashi, who doubled the then-previous record by downing 50 hot dogs. (Kobayashi's six-year winning streak was stopped by Chestnut in 2007.)
As a result of this specialized training, Smoliga says the winning ACR has jumped by a whopping 700 percent since the Nathan's contest was launched less than 40 years ago, compared to world record-setting performances in other sports, which have only increased by around 40 percent in the past century-plus. “No other sport comes close to that when records are measured in a 100-plus year span,” he told the New York Times.
So what does he think is the maximum number of hot dogs that a competitive eater can down within 10 minutes? It's eighty-four, which is nine more than Chestnut managed during this year's world-record performance. We were already looking forward to next year's contest, but this takes it to a new level.