You have probably heard of food challenges at local restaurants and eating contests at the county fair. Perhaps you have even taken one on for a free meal or your picture on the wall. But, did you know people earn money from competitive eating? Although it’s not the most conventional sport, some contests attract the most serious competitors from every corner of the globe. When you see the grand prizes and cash rewards, it’s no wonder why some people become professional eaters. However, there is much more to the sport than simply having a big appetite.
The Sport of Competitive Eating
It may seem like an obvious question, but what exactly is competitive eating? The sport, also called speed eating, requires contestants to compete against one another, eating massive amounts of food in a very short time. Most competitions only last 8-10 minutes, although some of the longer ones may give people up to 30 minutes to finish the food. When the time is up, they count their tallies and declare a winner. Judges count them down, manage the time, and watch the competitors for anything that could get them disqualified.
Although many smaller competitions only offer free swag or comp your meal, the larger contests often have huge cash prizes. And, the food used in the contest can vary greatly. So, if you are thinking about trying to earn money from competitive eating, you should consider your food choice carefully. Soon enough, you are sure to have a belly full of it!
Training for Competitions
Competitive eating isn’t something you can just walk off the street and win. It requires months of preparation and physical training.
Competitors train for months prior to the event, stretching their stomach capacity to its limits. The top eaters know that stomach elasticity could be the difference between a huge payday and a defeat.
Most usually begin with drinking huge amounts of fluids to stretch the stomach and throat, which will allow them to consume more food in a shorter amount of time. Others focus on building jaw strength. Chewing gum builds these muscles to help them devour their food faster.
Choose Your Strategy
No matter what kind of food challenge you undertake, you need a strategy going into it. The professionals first look at the meal they are about to eat and break down the components. Based on the types of food, you must decide the best approach for you.
Ordering your food correctly helps to ensure you have enough room for it all. You may choose to start with the things you like least to get them out of the way. However, every competitive eater tells you to start with the required liquids. Then, you move onto the proteins and cheeses which become harder to eat as they cool. Generally, professional eaters agree that you should save bread, starches, and other carbohydrates until the end. Keep in mind there is no single best strategy. Each person has their own rituals and routines to maximize how much they can consume.
Do Practice Runs
Just like any sport, you need to practice before the main event. You can look for local challenges to build your confidence and get some wins under your belt. Another option is to time yourself at home and analyze your performance.
You don’t want to do a trial run immediately before an eating competition. But, you should attempt it at least once before the event, especially if it’s your first time. This gives you a chance to adapt and change your strategy as well.
Earn Money from Competitive Eating
There are over 3,500 competitions across the U.S. every year with an estimated $400k – $500k in prize money for the taking. However, purses are usually between $1,000 and $8,500. The smaller competitions won’t provide a salary that you can live on. But, the largest contests have given away cars, motorcycles, and thousands of dollars in cash prizes.
Arguably the most famous competitive eating contest, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest gives out $10,000 for first place every year. Second place takes home $5,000 and third $2,500. Other events like the Wing Bowl have awarded winners up to $20,000.
Champions like Joey Chestnut have netted enough wins to build impressive net worth. After his 14th win in 15 years, he is now worth around $2 million. Tekeru Kobayashi ate his way to fame and a fortune of $3 million. Matt Stonie also earns a comfortable salary from his YouTube Channel which has 14.9 million subscribers.
While the elite eaters earn plenty of money from competitive eating, they also receive sponsorships which generate even more income. Chestnut does endorsements for Hostess, Hooters, Coney Island IPA, and Pepto Bismal. And, he also created his own brand of condiments. Some professional eaters are hired by local restaurants to participate in their competitive eating contests as well. So, they get paid win or lose.
Finding Competitive Eating Competitions
But, if you want to earn some real money from competitive eating, you will need to compete year-round. Start by familiarizing yourself with the Major League Eating events sponsored by major organizations like the International Federation of Competitive Eating. Not only can you keep up-to-date with the latest events, but also check the current rankings of all the competitive eaters.
However, if you have your eyes on a bigger prize, you can also follow EatFeats for challenges worldwide. This site is a virtual encyclopedia of all competitive eating contests. It breaks events down by types of food, dates, and locations.
Most of the champions give the same advice though to those just starting their career. They suggest beginning with some of the smaller, local competitions to earn your eating credits. It’s a good way to prepare for competitive eating contests with larger purses.
Competitive Eating Records to Beat
So, for all those looking to break into competitive eating, here are some of the current records to beat.
- Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest – Joey Chestnut (76 hot dogs in 10 minutes)
- Chicken Wings – Joey Chestnut (7.61 lbs of buffalo chicken wings in 12 minutes)
- Hamburgers – Sonya Thomas (7 3/4 lb. “thick burgers” in 10 minutes)
- 24″ Pizza – Richard “the Locust” LeFevre (7.5 Bacci Pizza slices in 15 minutes)
- Ice Cream – Cookie Jarvis (1 gallon 9oz of vanilla ice cream in 10 minutes)
- Burritos – Eric “Badlands” Booker (15 BurritoVille burritos in 8 minutes)
- Glazed Donuts – Joey Chestnut (55 donuts in 8 minutes)
- Watermelon – “Buffalo” Jim Reeves (13.22 lbs in 15 minutes)
- Pancakes – Patrick Bertoletti (50 3.5oz Wild Eggs pancakes in 10 minutes)
- Peeps – Matt Stonie (255 in 5 minutes)
- Ramen Noodles – Tim “Eater X” Janus (10.5 lbs in 8 minutes)
- French Fries – Cookie Jarvis (4.46 lbs of Nathan’s Famous Crinkle Cut Fries in 6 minutes)
- 3 Reasons Why You Should Insure Your Body Parts
- How to Get Paid for Getting a Tattoo
- 10 Ways to Make Money During Quarantine
Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.