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How Joey Chestnut preps for a stomachful of hot dogs

Rafa Alvarez

Some people have to work on holidays, even the Fourth of July. Joey Chestnut is one of them.

You may not consider stuffing your face with hot dogs work, but Chestnut, who has won the Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest in 10 of the past 11 years, has made a career out of competitive eating. And a lot more goes into it than showing up at Coney Island and chowing down.

"My first hot dog practice will happen in the beginning of May," Chestnut said at a Manhattan hotel during the weekend leading up to the 2018 contest. "It slowly gets more and more intense. There's a week and a half between my first practice and my second -- I'm just trying to get my body used to pushing it in that fashion. Toward the end, I'm doing a practice every six days, and I'm on an absolutely strict diet making sure that I'm getting back to my target weight before I do another practice.

"It takes about two months to really know where I'm at, where I'm peaking, and my body's pretty much a hot dog-digesting machine."

Chestnut, now 34, entered his first eating contest 13 years ago ... well, actually somebody else submitted the entry for him.

"My little brother knew I could really eat," Chestnut said. "When I was in college, I'd eat healthy during the week, and as my reward, I'd just go home and eat everything in my mom's fridge. He was still living at home, and there'd be a whole week's worth of leftovers, and I'd just eat it all. I was an animal."

Chestnut finished tied for third in that first competition, a lobster-eating contest. He won his second, consuming deep-fried asparagus this time around, and the rest is history.

He made his debut at Coney Island in 2005, finishing in third place. And since 2007, he's won the competition every year with the exception of 2015, when he was upset by Matt Stonie.

"I never imagined it'd be my full-time gig," Chestnut said. "But now it is, the last seven years. I travel pretty much every weekend of the summer. And then during the winter, I still do appearances and a couple contests here and there. So I stay busy, and I basically get to travel around the world and eat."

Whether or not you view competitive eating as a sport, there's no question Chestnut speaks like an athlete. That includes talking about his training regimen.

"I do a practice contest, and then recovery is important. As soon as I can start eating, I try to eat vegetables, fiber," Chestnut said. "And then once I feel like the food has moved and digested, I'll have one good day of protein, whether it's fish or turkey, maybe chicken. And then I go back and do a fast, where it's all liquid. It's a cleanse, pretty much, a two-day cleanse. And then when I'm at the weight I want and I know I'm empty, then I can do another practice."

"I do feel like garbage afterwards, but so what? Most people feel like garbage after a long day of work." Joey Chestnut

There's attention to detail on game day, too. "I'll change my technique even during the contest," he said. "If they're undercooked dogs, they won't be greasy and I'll have to chew more, and I'll have to dunk the buns [in water] a little longer so that I can swallow the meat."

Like any sport, a setback can serve as a motivational tool. "It was a bummer," Chestnut said of losing in 2015. "But it woke me up. It definitely woke me up. It made me hungry like I hadn't been hungry in a long time."

Chestnut has broken his own world record in each of the past two years following that defeat, wolfing down 70 hot dogs in 2016 and 72 last year. He doesn't have a specific target in mind this year, though.

"I still love it," Chestnut said. "It's addicting, beating the heck out of people and eating hot dogs and making people smile. I do feel like garbage afterwards, but so what? Most people feel like garbage after a long day of work."

So yes, Joey Chestnut will be working on Wednesday, but he clearly enjoys his job. And in case you were wondering, he enjoys eating a hot dog on the other 364 days of the year, too.

"Oh, I love a good hot dog," Chestnut said. "It doesn't get old. Just like running doesn't get old to people who like to run. I just love to eat."