48 hours with the first family of competitive eating

Eve Edelheit for ESPN

Less than two weeks before the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, Miki Sudo and Nick Wehry lay out in their kitchen everything they need to consume nearly 90 hot dogs in 10 minutes: Hot dogs and buns, three griddles, 13 32-ounce Wawa cups, paper plates, a water bottle for Sudo, two yellow Gatorades for Wehry and a folding table.

It's late June and 98 degrees in Tampa, Florida, but Sudo and Wehry try to simulate contest conditions as closely as possible, which means everything is hauled downstairs outside of their apartment. Only a few weeks ago, Wehry devoured his hot dogs in the rain -- soggy buns and all.

"We haven't done a full practice together in a while," Sudo says. "Not since 2019? No, 2020."

"Usually one of us has to practice and the other one's on baby duty," Wehry says.

They're the highest-ranked couple in Major League Eating and the first to do it with a baby. Sudo is ranked No. 1 among women and third overall; Wehry is fourth and has climbed higher every year. She owns world records in ice cream (2 gallons in six minutes), and kimchi (8.5 pounds in 6 minutes); he is the record holder in hard-boiled eggs (50 in 3:02 minutes).

Together, they demolished 88 hot dogs as a couple at Nathan's in 2020. Sudo won the women's division and broke the record with 48.5 hot dogs, while Wehry came in third with 39.5. In short, they're the top dogs of competitive eating.

But how do they train their bodies to inhale calories like air? And how do their stomachs feel afterwards? Hungry for answers, we sent a camera crew, a photographer and a reporter to find out.

For Sudo and Wehry, discovering an appetite for competitive eating was by happenstance. Sudo was a broke college student who learned that a local restaurant was offering $1,500 to anyone who could slurp down a 12 pound bowl of pho. From there, it spiraled into challenges around Las Vegas -- a pizza here, a burger there -- which led to her first taste of head-to-head competition (ribs). "I always said I wouldn't do it," Sudo says. "I felt like as a smallish girl, I didn't belong on stage with these large men." Sudo ended up beating over 35 people to win. "Now, I feel like any stage I walk on, I belong there as much as anybody."

Wehry was a former body builder who, on his work break, could gorge on eight Wendy's sandwiches, fries and still have room for a Frosty. Eventually, friends talked Wehry into joining a paczkis (Polish jelly-filled donuts) eating contest in Connecticut for charity. "When I won that, it was like, 'Wait a minute. I just made money. We raised money for a sick kid, and I got free donuts,'" Wehry says. "That's a pretty sweet deal, dude."

In the weeks leading up to Nathan's, Sudo's left wrist is mostly unusable due to what's likely a pinched nerve. It's the same hand she normally uses to roll and dunk hot dog buns in water and eating without it is like a boxer fighting without their left hook. Even so, "I don't want to fight Mike Tyson with one hand or two," Wehry admits. He may be right. In Lubbock, Texas, Sudo managed 28.75 egg rolls for second place with her wrist wrapped in KT tape. "I plan to give it a shot and win and hopefully beat my own record, but we'll see," Sudo says. "A girl can dream."

Wehry and Sudo first met four years ago at the hotel gym on the morning of Nathan's. It was 4 in the morning, and Sudo wanted to burn out contest day jitters on the treadmill when she asked Wehry if he minded taking a picture together for Nathan's social media. But this was no -- pardon the pun -- meat cute. "I went over and introduced myself, and we actually didn't talk after that," Sudo says. They didn't see each other again until four months later, when Wehry invited Sudo to a 10-person, 107-pound burger challenge in New Jersey. Eight months after that, they went on their first date.

Food for thought: Consider the physical feat of consuming 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes. That's the current world record held by Joey Chestnut. If you break it down, that's 7.6 hot dogs every minute, 22,040 calories and 60,040 milligrams of sodium -- more than eight and 26 times the daily recommended amount, respectively. You're taking your body to an extreme physical level. So, is competitive eating a sport? Wehry and Sudo say yes. "This isn't your uncle at the barbecue eating seven hot dogs, bro," Wehry says. "You think it's simple? Show up to a qualifier, come take my check and we'll see how simple it is."

"The ridiculousness of what we do is not lost on us," Wehry says. "That said, professional wrestling is a billion dollar industry and it's grown men play fighting in underwear. Actors and actresses make a living pretending to be someone else -- sometimes superheroes or Martians or animals or minions. But what they do is incredibly serious, obviously. You could find ridiculousness in virtually anything, if you really look for it."

"The Hungry Couple" posts videos of restaurant challenges, competitions and at-home stunts for their 46.9K subscribers on YouTube. Wehry, who cooks up most of their at-home challenges, has had to get creative with the logistics.

The couple once used a plastic tablecloth to roll 80 sheets of nori into a 10-pound California roll. Other challenges are more hazardous. Imagine trying to fry 16 pounds of bacon without a grease fire. It will also make your apartment reek, Wehry says.

Sudo's streak of seven consecutive titles is the longest among men and women. "If there's a Mount Rushmore to what we do, she'd be one of the four heads on there," Wehry says. Now, Sudo is hoping to add an eighth Mustard Belt after taking 2021 off when she was pregnant with Max.

"I think a lot of people aren't sure if I can regain my spot at the top after taking two years off," Sudo says. "It would be silencing for the doubters, and it would be validating for myself to show that even after carrying a child and nursing, I have what it takes to secure my spot as the No. 1 female in Major League Eating."

Max is too young to understand his parents are top-ranked competitive eaters -- they're the ones feeding him. But Wehry, who has a daughter and son from a previous marriage, says he tries to make sure Sylvie, 7, and William, 4, know the difference between competition and daily eating habits. While they'll watch the broadcast on July 4th, "I don't want to get a call from the middle school in a few years like 'Sylvie ate seven slices of pizza today,'" Wehry says. "She realizes this is almost like swearing, this is something that adults do. This is something daddy does and it's silly, right?"

Wehry and Sudo's grocery cart isn't usually maxed out on hot dogs and buns. Most of the time it's filled with chicken breasts, almond milk and kale. Probably not what you expected from a couple who regularly crushes the food pyramid. "I think people still have this idea that high-rank competitive eaters are these large guys," Sudo says. "That's just not the case. A lot of the top-ranked eaters are lean and fit, more of the athletic type." Working out is also part of their training. Sudo says she felt better after eating 48.5 hot dogs compared to 31 the year before based on her fitness level.

When you roll up to Sam's Club with nearly 100 hot dogs and buns, naturally there are questions. "People assume we're having a barbecue and I just go with it," Sudo says. A practice for two will cost about $80. On this day, Nathan's hot dogs are on sale. The specific hot dog and bun they'll buy will vary, but it's the weight that matters most -- 56 grams for the hot dogs, 43 grams for buns. "If you can get cased hot dogs, that's even better," Sudo says. "Some people swear that the natural casing has a different snap and they're different in competition."

Max, who will turn 1 in July, was named after the hotel where Sudo and Wehry first met. He goes where mom and dad go, traveling across the country for various competitions. This year, that includes Coney Island. Sudo started packing a few weeks before the competition, and part of that process now includes getting diapers delivered to the hotel for Max.

How the sausage -- err -- hot dogs get made is a 30-minute process from package to griddle to plate. Their approach to practice is different -- Sudo started in February and has done two full sessions since, including two sets of 24 hot dogs just for speed.

For Wehry, he'll get in about a dozen practices between January and July. "Any small hot dog eating success didn't come from genetic predisposal," Wehry says. "It came from, 'I'm going to figure out every little thing I could do better than people who are better at this than me.' I will turn over every rock and do things to an almost psychotic degree of perfection."

Most of Sudo's preparation focuses on familiarizing herself with what she's eating. "You don't want to be figuring out the anatomy of a chicken wing mid-contest," Sudo says. "It's crucial that you know how to most efficiently strip the meat off the bone." Wehry likes to simulate contest conditions as closely as possible, though that becomes difficult to do with regional-based foods. For example, where are you supposed to find pepperoni rolls outside of West Virginia?

We're all familiar with the sensation of feeling full after a Thanksgiving meal. Flavor fatigue, though, is a unique phenomenon among competitive eaters. After being assaulted by the same foods and flavors over and over again, the body starts to reject what you're putting in. How competitors combat flavor fatigue varies. Sudo adds a strawberry banana orange drink mix into the water she uses for soaking buns. Wehry prefers pineapple mango. "As absurd as it seems, sometimes you need something different because your body will just start to say no," Wehry says. "Reducing flavor fatigue can be the difference between 45 hot dogs and 55 hot dogs because the last 10 weren't as much terror."

All of Sudo's bites are calculated. There's very little chewing; instead, hot dogs and buns are broken into smaller pieces and swallowed. Hot dogs are eaten two at a time -- bite, sever, swallow, repeat. Buns are dunked into Sudo's strawberry orange banana drink mix, rolled into balls, and popped into her mouth. "If it's possible to eat hot dogs competitively in a pretty way, mine would be more pretty," Sudo says. "Nick's more like mash, mash, force."

Ten minutes and 88.5 hotdogs later, the plates are empty and stomachs are full. "You feel like a ninja turtle," Wehry says. Luckily, everything eventually digests -- some longer than others -- but any discomfort during and after is swallowable. "Competitive eating's become inextricably linked to my identity," Sudo says. "This is part of who I am. I used to have mixed feelings about that, but now I wouldn't have it any other way. It led me to meet the love of my life. I have a happy little family now. I feel really lucky."