Competitive Hotdog Eaters Are Just 10 Away from Human Limit, Study Says

Competitive eaters may have almost reached the human limit for the number of hotdogs that can be eaten in 10 minutes.

Professor James Smoliga, a physiologist in the Department of Physical Therapy at High Point University, North Carolina, has found the hotdog-eating threshold for humans is probably around 832 grams in 10 minutes, or about 83 hotdogs, with the average person able to eat about 10 in 10 minutes.

This is just nine away from the current world record of 74, which was set by Joey Chestnut at the annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest held in New York City in 2018. This amounts to around 24,000 calories in over 10 minutes.

To arrive at his findings, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, Smoliga pored over 39-years-worth of data from the contest held every July Fourth, where entrants try to eat as many hotdogs in buns as possible in around 10 to 12 minutes. He also looked at how much humans and carnivores who live on land can eat.

"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 ability to expand, Smoliga wrote.

With the help of mathematical models and other forms of analysis, Smoliga worked out that humans are, in theory, capable of eating approximately 832 grams of matter over a period of 10 minute. This is known as the active consumption rate (ACR), defined as the amount of food eaten in a given period of time. The maximum ACR for humans is similar to that of grizzly bears, but less than grey wolves, according to the study.

By looking at data from almost every year after 1980, Smoliga found a slow and steady rise in how much elite contestants could eat, likely due to training. This was followed by a rapid improvement and a plateau.

The study was limited because eating competitions do not reflect actual ecological conditions, as individuals are proved with unlimited food, meaning they merely need to eat rather than gather, Smoliga said. It is also possible that the ingredients of the hotdogs used in the contest changed over the time period studied without the author being aware. But this is unlikely to have affected the results, he wrote.

"In summary, data from hot dog eating competitions suggest that there is stunning plasticity in gut capacity," Smoliga said.

Smoliga told Newsweek in an email that email he was inspired to carry out the study because he and his father are "hot dog connoisseurs" and he was fascinated by a documentary on competitive eating. Smoliga is an expert in sports performance and was reading papers on this subject when the idea hit him.

Asked what the potential uses of the research are, Smoliga said it could help others gain a deeper understanding of obesity, eating disorders, and disorders in the digestive system.

"We may think of competitive eaters as a symbol of gluttony, but their physiology (the way their digestive system works) is clearly different than most people. It seems very clear that the 'training' they do is responsible for this.

"However, it is possible that there is also something inherently different about their bodies, which may also contribute to their capable to eat extreme amounts of food. Perhaps the scientific study of trained competitive eaters can shed light on other medical conditions," he said.

This article has been updated with comment from James Smoliga.

Joey Chestnut, Nathans Famous 4 July, getty
Competitive eating champion Joey Chestnut wins the 2017 Nathans Famous 4th Of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest with 72 hot dogs at Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Bobby Bank/WireImage