NEW YORK - MARCH 16: Competitive eaters (L to R) Tim Janus, Pat Bertoletti, Joey Chestnut and Juliet Lee face off in the first-ever Stroehmann Sandwich Slamm, an eating contest featuring corned beef and rye sandwiches ahead of St. Patrick's Day, March 16, 2009 in New York City. Winner Pat Bertoletti consumed 16 3/4 sandwiches in ten minutes to win the contest at Gallagher's Steakhouse. Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Want to prep for an upcoming eating competition? Maybe you should just quit now. At least, according to the IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating). Casual, non-officially monitored eating contests are heavily discouraged. There are two primary reasons for this:
The whole concept from start to finish is unhealthy. Let’s just be straight forward here: we’re talking about devouring pounds of food, thousands of calories, in less time than you get from one smack of the snooze button. No part of these events is promoting health or safety, regardless of how many security guards you hire. The only conceivable way to “monitor” these events in a way that would actually improve the safety would be to employ a therapist to stand behind each competitor, quietly whispering: “Psst. You should’ve stopped eating about 18 wings ago.”
IFOCE and MLE (Major League Eating) does not seem to want you to have any food-related fun outside of its sponsored events. But what’s more fun than a group of friends willfully disgracing themselves for general entertainment? The winner is inevitably the one who has inflicted the most discomfort on his or her body and mind. The competitions are sloppy, messy and humiliating celebrations of American excess. So naturally, MLE wants a monopoly on that.
Okay, you’ve made it through the disclaimers, and you’re still chomping at the bit to show off just how many matzah balls you can polish off with crowds of friends and random twisted spectators cheering you on. You’re wondering, what are some tricks that will rocket me to supremacy once game time rolls around? Well, it all depends on how serious you want to get about it. Are you angling to be the next Joey Chestnut in a span of three years? Or did you do a quick Google search because someone volunteered you for a group date with some pies that will be ready in 30 minutes?
Let’s start with more serious and work our way up to last minute prep. The major players (Chestnut, ‘Eater X’, the Black Widow) all do this business full time, which means training every day. They do water training, or buffet cramming, or practice contests.
Casual, but frequent competitive eaters are best when they stick to foods they enjoy, and usually keep fit. Much of the skill, like in any field, comes with experience and mastering the psychological element. If you have a competition coming later in the week, it would be good to run one or two practice runs of six to eight-minute power eating, specifically focused on the contest item. Fans will hotly debate the characteristics that define a champion, but the force of willpower is undeniable.
If you are within 24 hours of the event, a dress rehearsal is out of the question. On the other hand, fasting will not do you any favors, either. You’ll want to eat light, exercise and drink only water the night before. This is a tricky line to navigate, however, because not eating enough will tighten and constrict the stomach, and you’ll find yourself filling up rapidly. If you’re within an hour of showtime, none of these dietary suggestions will help you. Just remember, once it starts, to break up food into smaller parts before putting it into your mouth. And keep chewing while your hands are working. Don’t rush. A steady, confident speed will win the day.