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Health effects of competitive eating: Here’s what happens inside the body after Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest

The question on everyone’s mind during the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is simply, “How is this possible?”

While the average person might be full after one or two hot dogs, Joey Chestnut has eaten as many as 76 in a 10-minute span. Not only does Chestnut find a way to get all of the hot dogs down, but he’s able to stand on two feet and walk around like nothing happened when the competition ends. 

That doesn’t mean competitive eating can’t take its toll. There are plenty of risks associated with eating that much food in such a short amount of time, and Chestnut himself has been open about how it changes his body.

MORE: Full list of Joey Chestnut’s 55 competitive eating world records

Here’s what you need to know about what happens inside the body after the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and a look at the risks of competitive eating.

Competitive eating health risks

There are natural risks associated with eating massive amounts of food in a short period of time. Competitive eaters train to lessen those risks by expanding their stomach capacity.

Matt Stonie, the only man not named Joey Chestnut to win the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in the last 16 years, told USA Today in 2015 that he would drink water until he felt like he was “going to explode” to expand his stomach capacity. 

A 2007 study by the American Journal of Roentgenology (Ed.: radiology) found that competitive eaters were at risk of “morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting, and even the need for a gastrectomy,” according to USA Today.

Gastroparesis is also known as paralysis of the stomach. It prevents the body from properly disposing of food after it’s eaten. That can lead to a feeling of fullness or nausea and make bowel movements difficult. 

During a gastrectomy, the stomach is partially or fully removed. While competitive eaters theoretically have a higher risk of issues that can cause a gastrectomy, there aren’t many known examples of competitive eaters requiring the procedure.

Though Chestnut is one of many eaters who says he doesn’t typically feel sick and rarely throws up, it’s no secret that poor eating habits can lead to obesity and resulting health problems. It’s up to the eater to balance the food consumed during competition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle otherwise.

MORE: Where is the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest held?

Do competitive eaters throw up after?

Competitive eaters often train with water to expand their stomach capacity, which helps keep all the food down. As it turns out, training can make a big difference.

Vomiting isn’t a traditional part of the competitive eating process for many professionals. While there’s no telling what might happen to amateurs, most professionals are able to expand their stomach capacity to the point that they are able to compete in contests without throwing up. 

In addition to training, competitors often jump up and down during the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. That’s not just the adrenaline hitting the eaters; it’s a strategic move to get all of the food down the esophagus and into the stomach. Eaters are trying to clear room and make sure nothing is at risk of coming back up. 

Chestnut told CNBC in 2020 that he doesn’t typically feel sick after the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, despite eating more than the other competitors. He said he only feels exhausted and deals with extreme sweating. 

Competitive eaters poop

Every eater’s body is different, but Chestnut summed it up pretty well when he spoke to Insider in 2021.

“It’s natural,” Chestnut said, adding, “If you eat a lot of food, you’re going to go to the bathroom.”

While Chestnut has said sweating and exhaustion are two of the sensations he experiences shortly after the Hot Dog Eating Contest, he confirmed he ends up in the bathroom not long after.

TMZ caught up with Chestnut after the 2017 contest, and he provided some semi-graphic details. “It’s digested, just not completely digested,” he said, which comes as no surprise. How could the stomach fully digest more than 60 hot dogs that quickly?

The human body knows its limits. While competitive eaters stretch out their stomachs to the point that vomiting is fairly rare, they can’t stop the food from coming out altogether. 

MORE: Joey Chestnut net worth, career earnings

Hot Dog Contest calories

A hot dog is about 300 calories with the bun. That means Chestnut consumed about 22,800 calories in 10 minutes when he ate a record 76 hot dogs during the 2021 contest. Even in a more subdued performance of 63 hot dogs eaten in 2022, Chestnut consumed about 18,900 calories. For the average person, even eating seven hot dogs in one sitting would probably be a challenge. 

The recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 to 2,500. Seven 300-calorie hot dogs would get a person past the 2,000 threshold. Even if an individual consumes 2,500 calories per day, the high end of the recommended amount, it would take more than nine days to reach 22,800 calories.

While Chestnut is able to keep himself in good shape, he told TMZ that all of those calories result in him gaining about 23 pounds after the Hot Dog Eating Contest. It takes him a few days to fast and lose the weight, part of which includes simply expelling the food over time. 

How do competitive eaters stay thin?

If you notice one thing about many of the competitors on the stage on Coney Island, it might be that many of them — including Chestnut — look like they’re in pretty decent shape. They might not be in peak physical shape at the end of the day, but one would expect a professional eater to look like, well, someone who loves eating. 

For competitive eaters like Chestnut, though, this is a livelihood. The professionals make sure their bodies are in good enough shape to handle the massive amounts of food they take in during competitions, and that requires healthy practices.

Miki Sudo, who holds the record for most women’s titles in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, told the New York Post, “When I’m out of shape, I get winded earlier, which doesn’t really work to my advantage.” Sudo said she walks about 22,000 steps per day, works a full-time job and focuses on cardio at the gym. She added that nutrition and exercise become even more of a priority in the days leading up to a competition. 

Chestnut told TMZ that he gains about 23 pounds during the Hot Dog Eating Contest alone but returns to his normal weight in about four or five days. That requires fasting, which Chestnut does before the contest as well.

As with any sport that involves the body, competitive eaters can’t just show up and eat — not if they expect to compete with Chestnut, at least. It’s a lifestyle that requires physical fitness. 

MORE: Joey Chestnut puts protester in chokehold during 2022 contest

Competitive eating deaths

There have been a handful of notable choking deaths associated with competitive eating. Eating an unnatural amount of food in a short amount of time naturally raises the risk of choking, though experienced competitive eaters use methods that lower their choking risk.

As such, many recent deaths associated with competitive eating did not involve professionals. A Tufts University student choked to death during a hot dog eating contest in 2020, while a Sacred Heart University student suffered the same fate during a pancake eating contest in 2017.

Other recent incidents include a man choking during an amateur taco eating contest at a minor league baseball game in 2019 and a South Dakota man choking during a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in 2014. 

No competitive eater has died during the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

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