Inside the world of competitive eating, according to a nationally ranked champion

Yasir SalemYasir Salem is ranked the 9th best competitive eater in the world.

Yasir Salem’s foray into competitive eating started off as a joke with his friends.

But that joke quickly turned into an obsession, and Salem spent the next four years trying to qualify for the ultra-competitive Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

He considers 2012 — the first year he made it to Nathan’s — his turning point.

Salem is now ranked the 9th best competitive eater in the world by Major League Eating, and he’s eaten everything from doughnuts to corn to jalapeños (in bulk).

Despite what you might envision, he’s also an avid cyclist and has run 13 marathons and completed four Ironmans.

We sat down with the champion to discuss the intriguing world of competitive eating. Here’s what we learned:

Competitive eaters train by drinking, not so much by eating.

According to Salem, one of the keys to being successful in eating contests is being able to hold large quantities of food in your stomach. “The good news is you don’t need to eat five pounds of wings to train for a wing eating contest, in the same way that you wouldn’t run 26 miles for a marathon,” he said.

Luckily, eaters can train by drinking lots water instead of eating a ton of food. Salem says that if you can get yourself to drink a gallon of water — which weighs about eight pounds — in around 40 seconds, you can probably compete.

Body builders or people who work out a lot make good competitive eaters.

People who have intense and regimented exercise schedules tend to eat five or six meals a day, and drink 1.5 to 2.5 gallons of water, Salem says. This means that they’re used to having a lot in their stomach.

Competitive eaters usually aren’t overweight, and you don’t have to be big to be good.

Competitive eaters don’t eat like they do during a contest on a daily basis. Plus, just because someone is big doesn’t mean they will be good, Salem says.

“The big guys were like, ‘I eat a lot so I guess I could do this.’ And people never challenged that. But as the competitive eating scene evolved and the incentives became higher and the purses got higher, people were working harder,” Salem explained. “And that’s when you start seeing the big man drop off, because the people who have the mindset to figure it out were incentivized to do it,” according to Salem.

The most calories Salem has ever consumed was when he ate 55 Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

There are 190 calories in one Krispy Kreme, so that’s 10,450 calories.

That was for the annual Doughnut Derby in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, where participants bike 36 miles while eating as many doughnuts as possible. Salem is the reigning champion in multiple doughnut bicycle races across the country.

Salem eats healthy when he’s not competing, and he doesn’t feel great after a contest.

Salem doesn’t consume carbs on a regular basis because he says it makes him tired and irritable. Instead, he sticks to vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. And even though he preps for competitions by eating less in the days before and after a contest, he still doesn’t feel great right after.

“It’s a balancing act, but generally it seems to even out two days after, and by four days I’m generally back to normal. And because I’m not doing this every weekend I’m good… I’ll save my doughnut eating, my hot dog eating, my huge eating for these wacky celebrations,” Salem said.

There are four types of food eating competitions.

According to Salem, there are four kinds of food in competitive eating:

  • sweets (doughnuts, cannoli, birthday cake)
  • technique foods (wings, ribs, corn)
  • spicy foods (jalapeños)
  • capacity foods (chilli, frozen yogurt)

Salem’s two favourite categories are sweets and technique foods.

“I love sweet foods in general, so I tend to do better. And the technique foods, it helps me to think about the food differently than everybody else, and gives me an advantage because I do these massive spreadsheets and I look at every angle and I test things out.”

Competitive eaters don’t throw up after contests.

Salem says that although many people make this assumption, the competitive eaters he knows keep their food down even after the competition is over.

“I know the best eaters just don’t do that. It’s unnecessary. So if the point is to win and to get better, I believe you’ll be better if you run through it and understand how your body works so you can apply the knowledge of what you need to do to be better next time with what you do before and what you do after [a contest] to manage it.”

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