There’s four boys and two older sisters in my family. We’d compete in everything, but the only thing I could beat them at was eating. Years later, I was in college and my little brother signed me up for a lobster eating contest. It went against everything I grew up doing—you don’t eat fast or make a mess in front of people, but I was doing all of that, and the crowd was cheering. It was like the world was on crazy pills. At the end they gave me $250, and I fell in love with competitive eating right then.
The key to eating faster: fasting
Usually, I’ll fast for two or three days before a competition, with no solid food, to make sure I have the capacity to push myself to the limit. If you stop eating, the muscles around your stomach tighten, so every morning I drink a gallon of water and another half-gallon of milk to stretch the stomach. It keeps my body used to going from absolutely empty to 100 percent full. And the healthier you are, the better you can eat. The more I’m running, the better I can control my breathing. If I haven’t been running, I break my rhythm and slow down.
I love to eat, and I get cravings. I love king crab and prime rib. I enjoy good chicken wings. A good Caesar salad, the real Caesar dressing with egg and cracked pepper, that’s pretty much my go-to if I’m at a good steakhouse.
Derailed by cabbage
I was in Korea on an eating tour visiting military bases and eating kimchi. At home I’d had some and thought it was good, kind of spicy, but in Korea it was super spicy—a completely new level of kimchi. The chef on the base ended up beating me. I just couldn’t do it; I was in over my head.
Rising from defeat
There’ve been times I know I’m not eating my best, when I haven’t been running or treating my body right. Two years ago, my head was in the wrong place. I lost that 4th of July. It was all my fault. My personal life was a wreck at the time, but I gave myself some time and got healthy and came back and won the next year. I’m not the guy that’s doing this for fun. I’m doing it to be the best.
I used to do construction management, and it was pretty much my job to make people upset. I never thought that I’d have a job where I could make people happy. Now, I travel to different cities for these great festivals and people are happy to see me. The whole thing is crazy, I don’t know where it’ll bring me next. I can’t believe this is my life.
On July 4th, 2016, Joey Chestnut devoured 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win his ninth championship at “the Super Bowl of competitive eating,” the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, which is just one of the many competitions he dominates every year as the world’s greatest professional eater.