4th of July Science: Joey Chestnut and Competitive Eating

July 4, 2014 Updated: July 4, 2014

To celebrate July 4th, Joey Chestnut annually takes his talents to Coney Island to participate in Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, where he scarfs down 60 or so hot dogs in 10 minutes.

This year, he ate 61 dogs, won his 8th straight title, and even got a little proposal in.

But how is that even possible? How do you physically eat that much, and how does your stomach take it all in?

Well in regards to the answers to these questions, ESPN did a ‘Sports Science’ a few years back.

The main points of the video are transcribed below.

Factor 1: The Jaw

  • The masseter muscle of the jaw is pound for pound one of the body’s strongest. 
  • Competitive eaters are said to train this muscle by chewing 5 or more sticks of gum at once.
  • A bite of competitive eaters has over 280 pounds of force, a bite stronger than a German Shepard’s.

Factor 2: The Esophagus

  • The body relies on rhythmic contractions called Peristalsis to move food down the esophagus.
  • Competitive eaters can also use what’s called a Valsalva maneuver.
  • Kind of like pinching your nose shut and attempting to exhale with your mouth closed to clear your ears, this increases thoracic pressure, and like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, it can help move the food down the esophagus. 
  • By bouncing up and down, Joey also uses gravity to accelerate the process.

Factor 3: Stomach

  • Joey pushes the limits of stomach expansion, training his stomach to increase by roughly 400% from its ordinary volume of about 1 liter to more than 4 liters.
  • Body fat takes up valuable space for stomach expansion. This is why many competitive eaters are surprisingly fit.