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How to win an eating contest

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(Credit: Getty Images)

How many hot dogs can you scarf in one sitting? Four? Six? More? Sure, maybe, if you take your time.

So spare a thought for superhuman scoffer Joey Chestnut, who won last week's Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest by eating a staggering 68 hot dogs, buns and all, in just ten minutes. Talk about a gutsy performance.

But just how do pro eaters go about preparing their bodies for that sort of abuse? What separates a pig-out prince from a chowdown chump? Even if you're just thinking of entering the pie-eating contest at your local county fair this summer, consider gulping down these handy tips.

You don't need to be huge...

Believe it or not, you don't actually have to be especially large to be a competitive eater.

Indeed, Nathan's winner Joey Chestnut's six-foot frame tips the scales at a reasonably average 218 pounds. And his longtime rival, Japan's Takeru Kobayashi -- also a multiple winner at the Nathan's event -- is a mere slip of a guy at just 128 pounds and 5'8".

You don't need to be a guy, either, as there's no gender bias when it comes to cramming grub down your gullet (Chestnut himself was outeaten by 105-pounder Sony Thomas a few years back at a chicken wings contest). Are there more 400-pound eating champs than, say, 400-pound marathoners? Sure, but it's by no means a prerequisite.

...but you do need to be in shape

For eating contest victory, you don't need to go pumping iron or sweating it out on the elliptical. You need to stretch your stomach, not your limbs. Techniques for doing that vary, but you won't be surprised to hear most of them involve stuffing things down your throat. Water is a popular choice, because it's cheap, readily available in quantity, and comparatively non-toxic. Other top picks include cabbage, salad products, and ice cream.

Start soft

Some foods are easy to eat quickly. Wait, that's not right. Some foods are not quite as hard to eat quickly as others. Soft foods like pancakes or plain old butter, for example, don't take much thought to cram down. Anything that needs extensive chewing and associated saliva will be harder to swallow, and thus harder on your eating-contest dreams.

Foods that combine a starchy base with meats or other toppings -- hot dogs, say, or pizza -- are more difficult than they sound. Fiddly foods like buffalo wings require lots of practice, and even more so if they're spicy to boot. Pick your eating contest debut with that in mind.

Don't go in empty

It's obvious, right? If you're going into an eating contest, you should starve yourself beforehand to make sure you've got plenty of appetite and plenty of space in the breadbasket. Obvious, yes -- but also wrong.

The fact is, empty stomachs shrink, so most competitive eaters will make sure they chow down some bulky but low-cal foods (like, say, a nice green salad) in the hours before a match to prep their systems for the coming onslaught.

Dunk your donuts (or hot dogs, or anything else)

Just about every competitive eater goes into battle with a glass of water at their side. It's not to drink, necessarily, but for dipping thick, bready foods. Thus lubricated, the starchy carbs slide down the throat much more easily, and there's less need for all that time-consuming chewing. Yes, it's gross, but if you're entering an eating contest and expecting a gourmet experience you have been sadly misled.

Breathing is for wimps

Stopping to take a nice, big breath is the second-worst thing you can do during an eating contest. Why? Ask your brain.

It's all a mind game: it takes time for your brain to register that your stomach is full, and start sending its "hey, uh, probably time to stop slamming chicken wings now" messages. The key to success isn't being able to fit a huge amount of food in your stomach, but in being able to cram down as much as you can before your brain figures out what's going on. Pausing to let your brain catch up is a silent eating-contest killer.

Keep it down

So if stopping for breath is the second-worst thing you can do, what's the worst? No prizes for guessing: it's throwing up.

Contest organizers have a variety of euphemisms for the unfortunate act of vomiting -- suffering a "Roman incident," for example, or a "reversal" -- but no matter what you call it, if you do it during the contest and any of your, uh, "product" touches the table, you're going to wind up disqualified. Besides, nobody wants to see you humiliate yourself like that. Wait until afterwards, when you can find a private corner and reverse to your heart's content.

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