83 hot dogs in 10 minutes could be the human limit, but only after specific training to stretch the stomach of course. At least that’s what physiologist James Smoliga’s calculations reveal.
A competition for almost 50 years
In 1972, Jason Schechter, the champion of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest swallowed 14 hot dogs in 10 minutes. This year, in 2020, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut set a world record by eating 75 hot dogs, beating his own 2018 record by one.
The increase in human performance is unlike any other competition, but hot dog eaters may be approaching the limit, reports Science News. Using mathematical formulae created to estimate peak sporting performance, physiologist James Smoliga, from High Point University, calculates that a person can probably eat a maximum of 83 hot dogs in ten minutes.
James Smoliga’s idea of estimating the limits of speed eating is based on the search for peak performance in athletics. He applied the same equations to 39 years of hot dog eating records. The results were published on 15 July in the journal Biology Letters.
“It’s an excellent article,” says Michael Joyner, a physician at the Mayo Clinic who studies human performance. When an event gains notoriety, “people start training for it because there’s some kind of motivation, like fame or money,” he says. When people start training, performance follows a common pattern: competitors’ performance increases dramatically at first, then improvements become more gradual as they approach the upper limits of what is possible.
Women also participate in competitions for big eaters
Miki Sudo, who set a female record this year by eating 48 and a half hot dogs, trains by eating large quantities of food. That means soups, broccoli and “enough kale to kill a horse,” she says. Training like this stretches the stomach bit by bit, like stretching the earlobes by putting earrings and wideners into an ear piercing,” says James Smoliga.
Over time, the stomach of competitive eaters may lose the ability to return to its normal size. Instead, the stomach becomes “a big, flabby sac,” says David Metz, a gastroenterologist at the University of Pennsylvania. As a result, competitive eating has seen records skyrocket at a rate never seen in other sports. “We haven’t been twice as fast over 100 metres or twice as fast on the marathon in 100 years,” says James Smoliga. “This compares to nothing else we’ve seen in other sports”.
But for people who have not trained to eat fast, trying to eat like Joey Chestnut or Miki Sudo would be dangerous. A study conducted by David Metz in 2007 compared the stomach expansion of competitive eaters with that of people who had not trained for this feat.
One competitive eater drank more than 3.5 litres of water in just two minutes, while the other participant in the study drank less than 2 litres. In another test, the control participant ate seven hot dogs and felt nauseous, while the competitor ate three dozen. The researchers stopped him there, fearing that he might be injured. Choking is another danger in eating contests.
Can a man eat more than a grizzly bear?
The new study also compared human fast eater abilities to the feeding rates of familiar carnivores. Smoliga found that, adjusted for body mass, competitive hot dog eaters could eat more in ten minutes than grizzlies and coyotes. But it is the grey wolf that wins the prize, capable of eating the equivalent of 11 hot dogs per minute.
“It’s nice to make a comparison between species, but I don’t know if it’s exactly the same thing,” says animal nutritionist Annelies De Cuyper of Ghent University in Belgium. The figures used for wild animals come from their normal behaviour, but the statistics on speed eating are unusual. “If you put them all together in a competition, I don’t know who would win.”