The four-minute mile and the two-hour marathon were once considered impossible: now a new glove has been launched for the world of elite competition. Scientific analysis suggests that competitive eaters found themselves within nine hot dogs of human performance limits.
The theoretical ceiling was set at 84 hot dogs in 10 minutes. The current world record, set by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut earlier this month, stands at 75.
James Smoliga, a sports medicine specialist at High Point University in North Carolina who wrote the research, described 84 hot dogs as “the maximum possible limit for a Usain Bolt type performance.”
The analysis is based on 39 years of historical data from Nathan’s famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, an annual gluttonous show held in Coney Island, New York, combined with the latest theory of sport science, which uses mathematical modeling to project performance trends.
The composition and size of the hot dogs have, according to some reports, remained unchanged at Nathan’s Famous in the 104 years of history of the fast food company, which allows a valid comparison between competitors over the years.
The improvement curves in elite sports ranging from sprint to pole vault tend to follow a so-called sigmoid curve, with a slow and steady initial climb, followed by an era of rapid improvement and finally a leveling. “The consumption of hot dogs has definitely reached this second plateau,” said Smoliga.
Nathan’s early years of the contest featured a motley assortment of winners – mostly “fat obese guys” who had their luck that day, according to Smoliga. In 1984, the competition was won by Birgit Felden, a 130-year-old 130-pound West German judo team member who managed nine and a half hot dogs, although he did not. never ate before the competition.
In the 1990s, the participation of Japanese extreme eaters changed the rules of the game. In 2001, Takeru Kobayashi slaughtered 50 hot dogs, breaking the previous record of 25,125.
“It was no longer just people with a big appetite,” said Smoliga.
Elite eaters began to follow elaborate training regimes, some ingesting large volumes of liquid or gels to expand the stomach without having to process calories. Chestnut, this year’s winner, claims to train for three months before the competition, including weekly workouts, a carefully controlled diet, and yoga and breathing exercises to help with mental focus.
In the trade, being lean is generally considered an advantage because a thick layer of fat around the middle can tighten the stomach.
The theoretical maximum of 84 comes from fitting a curve to the data and taking into account the possibility of outliers whose performance lies within a certain margin of error of the curve.
The prediction should be true, said Smoliga, unless a “new type of competitor” presents itself – someone with gigantism or a metabolic condition that puts them well outside the normal parameters of human biology.
The limiting factor is probably chewing and swallowing rather than gastric capacity, based on the observation that after 10 minutes, many competitors are still trying to swallow more sausages and rolls.
According to research, published in the Royal Society’s journal Biology Letters, the achievements of human speed eaters are impressive even when compared to other species. “Humans are able to eat faster than bears or coyotes,” said Smoliga. Wolves, which devour their prey at an incredible speed, could however surpass even the elite human eaters.