A new study published in the journal Biology Letters decided to tackle one of life’s great mysteries: how many hot dogs is it possible to eat in 10 minutes? After analyzing data from 39 years of hot dog devouring at the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in the USA, the lead researcher revealed that it’s theoretically possible to scarf down the equivalent of 84 hot dogs in 10 minutes in yet another example of a scientist who was so preoccupied with whether you could he didn't stop to think if you should. (NB: you shouldn't)
Elite eaters are trained professionals who have mastered the art of consuming quantities of food far beyond the recommended serving size. Taking place on July 4th in Brooklyn (what says national pride like a mouthful of processed miscellaneous meat?), the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest sees competitors force down as many hot dogs as their digestive tracts can handle in a 10-minute, stomach-churning race. They’ll only allow entrants to participate if they’re under contract from the Major League Eating, the official organization for food-related “sporting” events.
James Smoliga from High Points University decided to establish the maximal active consumption rate (essentially, the most you can force down the human gut without bursting) to find out theoretically how many hot dogs one person could eat in 10 minutes if they were really going for it. At the moment the record is held by Joey Chestnut, who ate 75 hot dogs in the 2020 contest, but Smoliga’s findings reveal that it’s possible for the human body to handle more.
Using the body mass and height of the winners combined with the mass of an average Nathan’s hot dog, Smoliga’s mathematical modeling revealed that humans are theoretically capable of consuming 832 grams of delicious hot dog matter in 10 minutes, the equivalent of 84 hot dogs. Not so impressive now, Chestnut.
The paper goes on to discuss how the “biological feats” of competitive eaters could bear an ecological benefit in the same way that carnivores who eat prey larger than their gut capacity are able to take a longer break from energy-expensive hunting while they digest their enormous meal. The current record saw Chestnut consume over 21,000 calories in 10 minutes, 8.4 times the recommended daily intake, meaning his calorific surplus would hopefully buy him quite some time before needing another meal.
However, with great portion size comes great responsibility, as many competitive eaters have to be wary of their digestive health following such events. Smoliga explains that when you consume a vast quantity of food very quickly, the sudden dilation of your digestive tracts results in slow output meaning the bolus of hot dog, as in this instance, could be working its way through your system for days before being evacuated.
This stress and strain have a lasting effect on the gut, beyond the hypothetical risk of gastric rupture, which is a very real and very fatal threat to competitive eaters. A 2007 study used X-rays to compare the stomachs of normal and competitive eaters and found that speed eater's stomachs had essentially been trained to act as large flaccid sacs capable of stretching to accommodate vast quantities of food. The researchers concluded that the long-term effects of this may lead to competitive eaters developing morbid obesity, gastroparesis where the gut can no longer empty properly, repeated episodes of nausea and vomiting, and even the need for a gastrectomy. I suppose, as the saying goes: no guts, no glory.