Joey Chestnut is America's top-ranked competitive eater. This weekend, he plates off against rival Takeru Kobayashi in the Krystal Burger competition in Tennessee. Here, he gives us the skinny on how he trains, keeps motivated and eats to win.
How did you get into competitive eating?
My little brother Willie thought of it before I did, and he knew I was the biggest eater in the family, so he signed me up for my first contest. He's my biggest supporter.
How do you train?
It's a lot more than you think. I go for days of fasting, drinking large amounts of water and liquids, and practice contests every week. I've been training for over a month for the
Krystal burger contest. For
Nathan's Fourth of July Coney Island hot dogs, I train for three months.
Last year, my record was 103 burgers. In practice, I've gone up to 114. Part of practice is getting my muscles to cooperate more consistently. I can do a practice twice a week if my body recovers quickly. And every time, I push myself farther.
In between practices, I fast, have a minimum calorie intake and protein supplements. I am trying to maintain a healthy weight. As soon as I gain weight, I slow down.
I train like a weight lifter. Every time you lift weights, push your body to the limit, hit a failure point, and next time you can push your body farther.
Who is your a coach?
If I had a coach, I'd say it's my little brother Willie. He's there for practices, yelling at me.
Chestnut has downed 114 burgers in training.
Are there groupies?
There are people who tell me they go hundreds of miles just to see me. Not too many women. I have a baseball card -- Topps made a collectors card for me this year.
The 4th of July contest gets lots of attention. After the contest, I got touching letters from people about how they felt when I won. People said they traveled just to shake my hand.
Competitive eating isn't serious; it's comical. But I take it seriously, because I want to win. It feels good that people respect and appreciate what I do.
How do you celebrate a win?
After a win, I usually do interviews for 1½ to 2 hours. I'm exhausted. I haven't eaten for days. During the contest it's uncomfortable, and right after the contest, too. But then the body starts to digest. If I prepare my body properly, after four hours of sleep, I can go out and move around comfortably.
You've been described as a "chipmunker."
Chipmunking is when you fill your mouth and everything else is trying to catch up. I don't clear my mouth every time. I have a forceful technique. I push my pace the whole time. I don't relax. Some people say that's bad, but if I relax, I slow down. Kobayashi is almost graceful in the way he eats; I'm not. I just power it down. I motivate myself and push hard, sometimes breaking my rhythm. I want to keep a pace, breathe and get my muscles to cooperate.
How long a career do you hope to have?
I don't know. Good question. As long as it's fun.
What's your day job?
I work for a construction company. This was a weekend hobby gone crazy.
Do you have any competitive eating heroes?
Sonya Thomas is amazing. She was, like, 95 pounds, beating people who were 450 pounds. The other Americans told me she couldn't be beaten. When I stand next to her, I know she's pushing herself hard; she motivates me. She's 95 pounds, 40 years old.
What was your biggest purse?
The Wing Bowl this year. I got a Harley Davidson and a Toyota Tundra. It was nuts.
Chestnut: "It's not about eating as much as making your body do what you want it to do."
Could this be a full-time gig?
For me it could. I'm one of the few eaters to make money every time.
What's your advice for someone who'd like to pursue competitive eating?
I didn't start making gains until I figured out my body and paid attention to it. Figure out what stays in your body, how to control muscles -- there's a lot of muscle control. It's not about eating as much as making your body do what you want it to do.
What are your expectations for the Krystal Burger event?
Kobayashi will be there; we'll be pushing ourselves to a crazy limit.
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