<
>

Matt Stonie has his eyes on you, Joey Chestnut

Cody Pickens for ESPN

Some people eat to live. Some people live to eat. And some people crush 14.5 pounds of birthday cake in 8 minutes just because they can.

Meet Matt Stonie, professional eater, owner of 14 competitive eating records and the last guy to beat Joey Chestnut at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. He's consumed 85 MoonPies in eight minutes, 255 Peeps in five minutes and an entire McDonald's Happy Meal (soda included) in 15.22 seconds. "Everybody knows about the hot dog eating contest because it's July 4 and it's on TV," Stonie says. "But competitive eating is not a one-day-a-year thing. This is my job. This is my life."

We asked Stonie about his life, his goals and his sport ... and you might want to leave the Mustard Belt for the pros.

Q: How does a skinny little dude from San Jose (California) wake up one day and decide to be a competitive eater?

A: I entered a lobster-roll-eating contest because first prize was $1,000. I won by a quarter of a lobster roll and I thought, "Hey, maybe I can do this." But still, it took awhile before I joined the tour and figured out how to do this the right way.

Q: So, do you count while you're eating?

A: Sometimes. It's more about my pace than the actual count. So like, I go into an event with a goal and I know I need to have eaten X number of pancakes or whatever by a certain time.

Q: Do you chew?

A: Nobody believes me, but yes, I chew my food. Of course I try to chew as little as possible because speed is of the essence, but yes, I chew.

Q: Is there a strategy for different foods?

A: For sure. Every food is different. Think about it. A marathoner would train differently depending on the terrain. Food is like that. Not only am I taking into consideration things like the flavor and texture of food, but also how it varies at different points in the contest -- the first five minutes versus the last. I think about how I literally bite the food. When to drink water, etc. There's a lot more science and strategy than people think.

Q: Is training as simple as "Yeah, so I'm going to eat a lot of hot dogs this week"?

A: On some level, yes. I do train longer for the bigger events, but again a lot of it is pacing, timing, expanding my stomach. And then as the event gets closer, I put myself on a liquid diet so I have some nutrition, but still, plenty of room for whatever I'm about to attack.

Q: Are you watching the other guys?

A: 100%. I want to keep an eye on the competition, even more than myself. So here's a tip if you watch the hot dog contest: they set us up on stage by order of ranking. So Joey will be in the center because he's ranked No. 1, and then they'll fan us out. So for me, it give me a great chance to watch Joey and be conscious of what he's doing. Bottom line? It may look like we're just trying to shove food down our throat, but we're very aware of what's going on.

Q: How is every one of you not 300 pounds?

A: Obviously, we don't eat like this all the time. In between contests, we're all sane, normal rational eaters. I work out. Honestly I don't really eat a lot unless I'm training or competing. Although I've been to Japan and I've kind of gotten addicted to ramen.

Q: The constant weight fluctuation ... that can't be healthy.

A: After a contest, I can gain up to 20 pounds. I know 20 pounds in 10 minutes sounds ridiculous, but a lot of it is water weight. It takes me maybe three days to lose it after a contest. And it's not like I'm doing this every week. I compete in maybe one event a month.

Q: Are there any untouchable eating records?

A: I think there are two. Joey and I did a pumpkin-pie-eating contest in 2014. The competitive nature between the two of us was unbelievable. I ate 20 pounds, 13 ounces of pumpkin pie -- 84 slices -- in eight minutes. We also went head-to-head in a dumpling event. I did 373 and he did 384. I don't think either one of those records will ever be beat.

Q: Other than hot dogs, what's the one record you don't have that you want?

A: Joey's got the poutine record of 25.5 pounds. That's on my radar.

Q: Have you ever been in a contest where you've been like, "I seriously don't know if I can eat this"?

A: Joey and I were in a cow-brain tacos-eating contest. The fattiness of the cow brains was, um, yeah, not good. You could literally see the brains. Even worse? I lost to Joey by half a taco.

Q: Are there any records that even you think are disgusting?

A: Sonya Thomas ate 47 dozen oysters in eight minutes. That's just not right.

Q: Thoughts on July 4?

A: Here's the deal: I'm the last guy who beat him, and I'm going to be ready. I want the hot dog record back. It's the crown jewel of eating.