You know that dude from Man vs. Food who goes around the country doing eating challenges? Well, it's about to be You vs. Man vs. Food, and you are going to win. Here's how: this definitive cheat sheet to winning every food challenge ever invented, entirely informed by 1) competitive eater Matt "Megatoad" Stonie, and 2) a goddamn Stanford doctor. Let's eat.
Timothy DeLaGhetto and David So Hit Up the Taste of Little Italy Food Festival
SPEED EATING Dr. Connor O'Brien, Stanford: "There are a few components to what limits your ability to eat fast. First is the size and movement of your esophagus. It's 2-3cm wide and about 18-24in long -- this size is insufficient for accommodating 50 hot dogs. But, if you eat large quantities over time you can stretch out your esophagus. Second: On average, your body takes 1-2 minutes to move solid food from your mouth to your stomach. To make this more rapid you can soften food, like sticking buns in water or lemonade.
"A third limitation is the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). In order to allow food to pass to your stomach, you would want this to relax. Repetitive, rapid eating can induce a laxity in the muscle. Second, rapid succession swallowing causes progressive relaxation of the LES. Third, there are foods that cause this to relax, which classically cause acid reflux -- things like chocolate, coffee, and spicy food. "A fourth limitation would be the size of your stomach -- you can teach your stomach to relax in anticipation of a meal. Eating small amounts of food or drinking water can cause "anticipatory relaxation" of the stomach. Even things like smelling food can cause this. This is why restaurants serve bread prior to a meal. "The fifth and final thing you need to overcome is the nausea mechanism. There are medications that could help prevent throwing up by suppressing the central nervous system's stimulus to vomit. These medications generally inhibit serotonin in the brain. Ondansetron is one example. There are antiemetics around the house that could be used, but these generally work on other nausea mechanisms that may not benefit a competitive eater. One classic example is ginger ale. You could also use dramamine over the counter."
Matt "Megatoad" Stonie, Competitive Eater: "It really comes down to two things. Mentally, you have to disregard any notion that you've built up about eating. People put stuff in their mouth, chew, and then swallow. If you want to eat competitively, you've just gotta focus on swallowing. [Editor's Note: ...] Chew a little bit here and there, but you have to take the traditional eating mentality out of it. The other thing is using plenty of liquids to chase the food down. It goes down your esophagus easier. It's like... um... lubrication."
LARGE QUANTITY EATING Stanford Doctor: "Drinking large quantities of water could theoretically increase the size of your stomach and allow stretch. Problem with that is that you could dilute the sodium in your blood to the point where you get hyponatremia and have a seizure. This can actually be fatal as well. Obviously, using techniques like this are not medically recommended. Given the space 50 hot dogs takes up is so much larger than anybody's natural stomach size, relaxation is probably the primary driver of success.
"Interestingly, diabetics tend to have slower gastric emptying. This condition is called gastroparesis. Your stomach can literally become paralyzed. Often part of this pathology includes the inability of their stomachs to relax. If you are super fat and very diabetic, there is a good chance that you actually can't eat very much as your stomach does not accommodate large boluses well. You should definitely poop before a competition. You have something called the gastro-colic reflex. This means that, when you eat, your large intestine squeezes to make space ahead. This is unlikely to change how much you can eat overall, but you may get an intense urge to poop your pants in the middle of an eating contest if you have not cleared yourself out before."
Competitive Eater: "It comes down to standing upright (not being cramped over kind of opens your abdominal cavity), drinking liquids (that helps food settle better in you stomach), and also shaking a lot, working the food around until it fits nice and snug in the bottom of your stomach. Food tends to build up in your upper stomach and it's really painful. What I do the morning of a contest, I drink a gallon of liquids, Powerade, that crap -- it wakes it up. Then I drink some coffee with it, so I can pee it out before contest. I drink Ensure or Boost for liquid nutrition. People always think it's 'Oh man, you fasted forever.' I tried that before, and you feel so out of energy for contests. It's a balance of giving yourself enough energy."
SPICY EATING Stanford Doctor: "Your body has the ability to down-regulate taste receptors. With repeated exposure to hot food, your body will naturally reduce the number of receptors for spice. This reduces your ability to sense spiciness and allows you to eat hotter and hotter food. This process takes weeks to months. The same is true for salt. For example, if you eat less salty food for weeks and then eat a potato chip, it will taste very, very salty. This is because your body up-regulates salt receptors when you eat a low-salt diet.
"As far as changing your ability to eat spicy food in the short run goes, bread and other things that soak up the spicy oils will help. This is also true for your stomach. Eating spicy salsa on an empty stomach is going to be more irritating than eating some with a few chips in your belly. Milk with fat could technically help cool down your mouth, but is unlikely to help much. Spice is generally an oil-based compound, so you need to eat fats to dissolve it. Bread can help soak up the oil, but usually, if your mouth is on fire, the oil is already bound to the receptors on your tongue, and your goose is cooked. You'll just have to ride out the wave. Water activates receptors in your mouth that counter the sensation of burning from spice. Water will not get rid of spice on your tongue, but it will reduce the sensation of spice basically by tricking your tongue. Putting an ice cube in your mouth can similarly help with symptoms. Fruit smoothies would work by the same mechanism."
Competitive Eater: "I hate spicy stuff. I like good Tabasco on Mexican food, but extremely spicy... I stay away from it. I did the SmokeEaters challenge that was on Man vs. Food; it's basically a bunch of really hot wings down in San Jose. It felt like it was eating away at my insides -- it was the most painful thing in the world. Even pro eaters, we don't want to kill our stomachs. Chocolate milk is what you do use if you do, though. Major League Eating hosted a jalapeno eating contest a few years back, and a lot of guys used chocolate milk. It has a big soothing factor. The key to a spicy challenge is getting it down as fast as possible, so you don't have time to think about it."
ICE CREAM EATING Stanford Doctor: "I would take Lactaid, because you will overwhelm your body's ability to digest lactose. If you overwhelm your body's ability to digest lactose, the lactose will enter your colon. Lactose is a type of sugar. The bacteria in your colon then get to go nuts with the lactose. They digest it, grow, and make stinky gas. You will also get bad diarrhea."
Competitive Eater: "I like to use warm coffee; it counteracts by going bitter then sweet. Hot liquid also cancels out brain freeze."
GALLON OF MILK DRINKING Stanford Doctor: "This is hard because milk products digest very slowly. Slow digestion means that they do not leave your stomach for your intestine very quickly. Why this is is not 100% clear. It most likely has to do with the large number of nutrients dissolved in milk. Your body likely senses the protein, fat, and sugar mix, and decides to increase gastric emptying time (slower emptying) to allow your intestine to get ready for the milk. Your intestine, pancreas, and liver work together to produce enzymes that allow you to process protein, fat, and sugar. Water can pass directly through your stomach into your intestine because your body does not sense nutrients, so direct passage occurs. Gatorade and fruit juice only have sugar, and your intestine can deal with that more easily than protein and fat. That is why most liquids pass quickly but milk does not. Practice would allow your stomach to learn to distend. You could increase your chances of success with this by eating a small something first to allow the "anticipatory relaxation" to occur."
Competitive Eater: "The whole concept is, you can't drink gallon of milk in an hour; water empties out into intestines fast, but milk is more like food, so your stomach holds onto it longer. The average human stomach can't hold a gallon of milk -- that's eight pounds. I've got a 16-20lb stomach. It takes time to develop that."