In the race to eat as many hot dogs as possible in just ten minutes, competitive eaters may actually have a limit. A study looked at almost 40 years worth of Nathan’s Famous Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest and showed that the maximum is 83 franks, buns and all.
Every Fourth of July renowned competitive eaters descended on New York City to compete in the famous hot dog eating contest, which first started in the 1970s. The event was different this year, as only 10 people competed due to the pandemic. Still, Joey Chestnut won with a new world record, eating 75 hot dogs.
It might seem impressive but he could have eaten more. Researcher James Smoliga, a physiologist at High Point University in North Carolina, was watching the competition and came up with the idea of applying mathematical equations used to estimate the limits of athletic performance to feats of gluttony.
Looking at data from 152 competitors over 39 years, obtained from Nathan’s website and from personal records, Smoliga calculated an upper hot dog limit of about 83 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Eating as many hotdogs translates to a consumption rate of about 832 grams per minute and more than 23,000 calories in total.
Smoliga graphed the winning active consumption rate (ACR), which he defined as “the mass of food consumed in a given active feeding time period” by year. He also took into account the observed trend that athletic records frequently progress in an S-shaped (or sigmoidal) pattern over time.
In the beginning, progress tends to be slow with records not increasing by much. However, as a sport grows in popularity, at some point, athletes bring new techniques, approaches, and talents, resulting in a period of rapid improvement. This pushes records up higher in an accelerated fashion.
Record performances in sports like track and field have improved about 40% since record-keeping began, whereas hot dog-eating prowess has improved approximately 700%. Competitive hot dog eaters have a consumption rate that’s actually higher than grizzly bears and coyotes, according to Smoliga, though wolves lead the pack.
Eating large quantities of food quickly can be a useful strategy for carnivores when food is scarce. Smoliga argued humans’ capacity for a relatively high consumption rate may have proved useful at some point in our evolutionary past. But that’s not likely the case now, with eating many hotdogs in a small period of time just leading to digestive problems – or a prize at Nathan’s.
The study was published in Biology Letters.