The untold truth of Joey Chestnut

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (which is totally a thing), the average American eats 70 hot dogs a year. In July 2020, competitive eater Joey "Jaws" Chestnut consumed 75 hot dogs in just 10 minutes, breaking his own world record and winning Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest for the 13th time. The California native wolfed down his 1000th professional dog during the event, which has been pivotal in his rise to stardom. Chestnut's name is now synonymous with hot dogs the world over, making him something of an authority on the iconic American favorite — he actually weighed in on the long-running debate over the classification of hot dogs a few years back, insisting that they shouldn't be lumped in with sandwiches.

He's the face of face-stuffing in the United States and beyond, but how did he become the hot dog eating machine he is today? Does he eat hot dogs exclusively? And how come he's not clinically obese? We'll answer all of these questions and more in the untold truth of Joey Chestnut.

Joey Chestnut ate a lot as a kid

Long before he earned the nickname "Jaws" from fellow competitive eater Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas (a woman capable of putting away 11 pounds of cheesecake in nine minutes), Joey Chestnut was just a hungry kid who loved his food. He described his parents as "super hippies" during an interview with GQ, recalling fond memories of his mother's home cooking. "She would make a ton of pasta, and I would just eat so much of her pasta when I got home on Friday — and then we would go out to eat," Chestnut told the men's mag. The future competitive eating champion would usually head to the "awesome burger place" right next to his parents' house for another course or two. "I'd go and get burgers and pie with my little brother."

Chestnut's younger brother, Willy (once described by Vanity Fair as "his exuberant cheerleader on the eating circuit"), was the first to notice that he had a talent for finishing his food at an astonishing pace. In 2005, Willy took it upon himself to enter his older brother into a lobster eating contest, and the rest is history. Chestnut's breakout performance came later that year when he blew away the competition at California's World Deep-Fried Asparagus Eating Championship, a prestigious event in the world of competitive eating. According to ESPN, he put away a whopping six pounds of asparagus in just 11 minutes to claim the title.

Joey Chestnut trained as a civil engineer

Joey Chestnut has been completely open about the fact that competitive eating wasn't exactly his dream field of work growing up. The world record breaker simply discovered something he excelled at and went with it, which ultimately led to fame and fortune: You might not think it, but there's actually a lot of money to be made in the competitive eating game. He's far from the richest guy living in California, but Chestnut made a cool $230,000 in 2014, according to Major League Eating co-founder George Shea (via USA Today), and his wallet has only been getting heavier in the years since — his net worth was reportedly in the region of $1.5 million by 2020, per Celebrity Net Worth.

Dropping out of university to pursue a career in competitive eating proved to be a lucrative move, but Chestnut does sometimes wonder about what might have been. He was studying at San Jose State when he decided to make a radical career change, trading in his life as a civil engineering student for the grind of the Major League Eating circuit. "If I wasn't doing this, I'd be working in construction management or be a project manager for a general contractor," he told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "It was a hard decision to give up a normal job. I worked hard to get through school. You go from building a fire station to an eating contest."

Doctors have urged Joey Chestnut to stop eating

If you consumed at least 420 hot dogs a month to train for an event in which you eat as many dogs as you possibly can in 10 minutes, you'd probably be a little nervous about your medical. A lot has been written about the dark side of competitive eating (participants have been known to develop arthritis of the jaw, and internal bleeding is a very real possibility), but Joey Chestnut doesn't lose any sleep over that. The American food star claims his body was built to eat hot dogs at lightening speed, which has drawn criticism from medical professionals. "Some doctors are very close-minded," Chestnut told GQ. "They're like, 'Oh, it's really unhealthy,' and this and that. Well, alright, I know it's not healthy. Running marathons isn't healthy."

After parting ways with several wary doctors, Chestnut came across one who actually believed that his unusual job wasn't going to kill him. "My doctor, he didn't seem at all worried about anything like that," he said, adding that his doc told him that as long as he stays away from drugs, his stomach won't rupture. "I really appreciated his confidence. A couple of times I think he could be wrong. But hopefully he's right." According to Chestnut, his go-to doctor monitors his bloods and keeps a close eye on his general health, not just his gut. "He talks about how I'm feeling and he's really happy with the way my body's working."

Joey Chestnut rejects claims he encourages obesity

Thirty-one U.S. States have an obesity rate of 30 percent or higher, and the problem has been described as an epidemic by some news outlets — statistics that are often thrown in Joey Chestnut's face by those who oppose the idea of competitive eating. In July 2017, for example, activists set up a stand outside that year's Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest to give away free vegan hot dogs, according to the Independent. Five people were taken into custody after attempting to unveil a large banner protesting the event, though it went ahead as planned and hundreds upon hundreds of hot dogs were consumed by both competitors and onlookers. If you ask Chestnut about those who oppose the event, he'll tell you that we all have the right to enjoy our food.

"There's nothing pretty about competitive eating," he told Vanity Fair. "It might be uncouth, but it is fun and it is lighthearted. When you narrow it down, how many real pleasures are there in life? There's only four the way I count it: There's eating, there's laughing, there's making love and there's the accomplishment of achievement and feeling proud. Maybe in America there's more of an emphasis on food than there should be. But when I look out at the audience during a competition, some people are shocked, but most people are smiling."

Joey Chestnut developed a hot dog diet

According to the official Major League Eating website (which describes Joey Chestnut as "an American hero and a national treasure"), the world's biggest eater weighs just 230 pounds. How does a person consume such insane amounts of food on a regular basis and still manage to fit through their front door? Chestnut has developed his own diet that allows him to continually work his stomach in preparation for competitions while also maintaining a reasonable overall weight, and it's pretty straightforward. "It's hot dogs, protein supplements, water," he told GQ. "After every practice, I can feel when I'm pretty much digested. And during that time, I'm just taking protein supplements. And then I'm drinking tons of lemon water, pretty much just do a cleanse."

He takes his training schedule so seriously that he refused to eat a S'mores covered hot dog during an awkward radio interview with CBS Sports, though he does like to indulge a little during his down time. "I'll go out with all the eaters and people of whatever city I'm in, and just drinking, partying on Saturday night — doing that once a week really puts it on." According to Chestnut, he will still be making pitchers of beer disappear long after most people have given up, though his preferred drink is a Jameson whiskey. "You got to get something that's going to penetrate after all that food."

Joey Chestnut is popular with the ladies

In 2017, ESPN declared Joey Chestnut one of the all-time greats, listing him alongside legends of basketball, baseball, and ice hockey in a tweet recognizing athletes who have accumulated the most title wins in their field. Even in the world of competitive eating, success means attention, and Chestnut has been top dog (pun very much intended) for quite some time now. As his exposure and net worth continue to increase, so does his standing with some members of the opposite sex, something he openly admits to. 

"Women like winners," he told GQ, revealing that he often notices the same faces at the various competitions he competes in. "I wouldn't call them groupies, but there's definitely been ... Yeah, there's fans. I'll leave it at that."

Chestnut appears to have plenty of options when it comes to romance, but he doesn't seem to be interested in hooking up with fans. After he claimed victory at Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2014, he got down on one knee and proposed to fellow competitive eater Neslie Ricasa, who accepted. They had been dating for a while (the relationship was the source of much gossip in the competitive eating community, with some linking Ricasa's rise through the ranks to Chestnut's tips) and looked set to become the power couple of Major League Eating, but it wasn't meant to be — they split up in 2015, just weeks before their wedding date.

Joey Chestnut ate his way through a bad break up

When Joey Chestnut's relationship with "Sweet" Neslie Ricasa went sideways, he did what most people do in that situation — comfort eat. Speaking to the New York Post (which ran with the headline, "Joey Chestnut is focused on gobbling wieners after splitting from fiancee"), the newly single hot dog king revealed that he was throwing himself head first into his training following the celeb breakup. "Competitive eating is something I can control," he told the tabloid ahead of Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2015. "I know I can control and if I push hard, I can win ... [The split] gave me more reason to focus on this competition."

According to Chestnut, all the traveling he has to do for competitions and paid appearances put a strain on the relationship. "I was gone quite a bit," he admitted. "It was mutual. It just didn't work." The competitive eating legend said that the prospect of returning to the site of his proposal was "bittersweet" for him, but he was determined not to let his break up knock his game. "Last year, the whole engagement affected me," he revealed. "This year I will definitely have less distractions." It appears as though Chestnut was just putting on a brave face, because he would go on to lose the July 4 contest to Matt "Mega-Toad" Stonie, bringing his 8-year winning streak to an end. He reclaimed the Mustard Yellow Belt the following year.

Joey Chestnut has to go to the bathroom a lot

In most walks of life, winning a competition means a celebration is in store, but for competitive eaters, the hours after a contest are usually spent in the bathroom. Every competitor deals with the aftermath of an event in different ways: Tim "Eater X" Janus, who finished a distant second behind Chestnut at Nathan's in 2012, told Deadspin you just "gotta live with the consequences of your actions," whereas third-placed finisher Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti revealed that he never uses the on-site porta potties because "they might just explode." If you need a visual aid, head over to Canadian competitive eater Peter "Furious Pete" Czerwinski's YouTube channel, where he provides a handy demonstration of what it's like going to the bathroom after a competition using marshmallows and a bowl.

As far as Chestnut is concerned, as soon as the contest is over and his media obligations are done, it's back to his hotel room for a date with the toilet. "I sleep, I drink liquid, run to the bathroom," he told GQ. "Nature's gonna call." When pressed about the exact number of times he has to dash to the toilet in the first 24 hours after a competition, he said that he's "happy if it happens less than eight times" in total, but admitted that it's not uncommon for him to hit double figures. "It's weird the way the body works," he added. "The human body's amazing."

The weirdest thing Joey Chestnut has eaten

Joey Chestnut's name will forever be associated with the hot dog, but he's actually taken on a variety of foods during his competitive eating career to date. The San Josean has broken world records for eating everything from Taco Bell (he managed to put away 53 soft beef tacos in 10 minutes) and glazed donuts (55 in 8 minutes) to jalapeno poppers (118 in 10 minutes) and Twinkies (121 in just six minutes), but what's the weirdest thing he's ever had to chow down on? In 2013, Chestnut took part in a zombie-themed contest in Minneapolis, gobbling his way through dozens of legit brain tacos.

"It was real cow brain, so it was veiny and gelatinous," he told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "I know, not great, right?" The competitive eater said the brains left a "metallic taste" in the mouth during his GQ interview, but he managed to put away 54 of the things in eight minutes anyway, edging out an unlucky Matt Stonie by just half a taco (per Eat Feats). The victorious Chestnut gave his compliments to the chef, but admitted that he was more than a little grossed out by the whole thing. "It was disgusting," he told Shout Out Minnesota. "[The tacos] actually didn't taste too bad, but the whole thought of eating brain — I had a couple of big gags."

Joey Chestnut made a bad decision on The Amazing Race

Joey Chestnut teamed up with fellow competitive eater (and world burping champion) Tim Janus for Season 30 of The Amazing Race, a television appearance that was years in the making. "I applied a long time ago and then they reached out to me several times, and this time, it was in October, I was able to clear my schedule," Chestnut told Reality TV World in 2018. "They asked me who I wanted to invite, who my partner would be, and I was like, 'Tim!' He's really smart and we get along pretty well." Chestnut and Janus got the chance to do some pretty incredible things during their time on the show, which came to a grinding halt after they made a bad decision in episode 5.

The eaters opted for a puzzle task that all the other teams had avoided due to its difficulty ... and to make matters worse, they got lost on the way. "It was [our] downfall," Chestnut admitted. "Especially because we were driving really good that day and we would've found the bull arena easier." The hot dog supremo took full responsibility for the team's early exit — they avoided the arena task because they didn't think it suited his skill set. "We both knew that I'm not that good of a runner," Chestnut said. Janus took their elimination hard, bemoaning the fact that they "left so much undone."

Joey Chestnut still has beef with Kobayashi

Before Joey Chestnut became the undisputed king of hot dogs, the crown belonged to a Japanese competitive eater by the name of Takeru Kobayashi. The Nagano native had won six Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contests on the bounce when Chestnut dethroned him in 2007, taking the famous title just two years after competing in his first-ever eating contest. "It's the only time in my life where I did something where the big majority of people thought was impossible," Chestnut told CBS Sacramento. "The other competitive eaters thought it was impossible to beat him ... Even people close to me thought he was unbeatable. It was an amazing feeling."

The rivalry between Chestnut and Kobayashi was explored in detail during 2019's The Good, The Bad, The Hungry, which chronicled both men's adventures in the competitive eating world. Chestnut told TV Insider that he was happy with how the ESPN documentary turned out (he praised director Nicole Lucas Haimes for conducting thorough research and coming into the project with a good knowledge of competitive eating), but he had issues with some of Kobayashi's comments. "We've had many opportunities to compete against each other, and he won't do it," Chestnut claimed. "He was signing the same contract for nine years in a row, and [for] six years he was winning. It was only when he started losing that he started complaining."

Coronavirus couldn't stop Joey Chestnut

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in early 2020, making major gatherings and sporting events impossible. There were fears that Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (a 4th of July tradition that, legend has it, dates back to 1916, when four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest to prove who among them was the most patriotic) would not be able to go ahead because of coronavirus. Thankfully for Joey Chestnut and his fans, organizers tweaked the event with social distancing in mind. The returning champ removed his protective face mask and gobbled down 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes to retain his crown, breaking the world record he set in 2018.

"It was hard," Chestnut told ESPN. "I knew I was fast in the beginning. It was like blistering speed. And the dogs were cooked really well today." He had predicted that the hot dogs would taste better on account of there being less competitors (only five eaters were allowed to enter), and Chestnut knew that the new indoor, air-conditioned setting would work to his advantage, but he was wary about the lack of spectators. "Minute six is where I really missed the crowd," he said. "I hit a wall, and it took me a little bit more work to get through it. This is a crazy year, and I'm happy I was able to get a record." Miki Sudo retained the women's title after she wolfed down 48.5 dogs.