[Readings] Chow Hounds, By James M. Smoliga | Harper's Magazine

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[Readings]

Chow Hounds

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From a study titled “Modelling the maximal active consumption rate and its plasticity in humans—perspectives from hot dog eating competitions,” which was published last summer in Royal Society Biology Letters.

The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is held every Fourth of July in New York City and features participants attempting to consume as many hot dogs in buns as possible within ten to twelve minutes.

Rapidly consuming large quantities of food can be ecologically beneficial. Carnivores that kill prey exceeding their individual gut capacity may share meat and need to hunt less frequently. The capacity to achieve a high active consumption rate (ACR), the mass of food consumed in a given feeding period, could have been advantageous in human evolution. Maximal absolute ACRs in humans are similar to those observed in grizzly bears eating muscle tissue, though smaller than those of gray wolves. Human ACR is greater than that of coyotes. The ACRs of participants who have won the hot dog competition has increased approximately 700 percent in less than forty years. Many of today’s elite competitors achieve ACRs five times greater than the average among early contest winners.

Large boluses of food remain in the digestive tracts of competitive eaters for days before excretion. Severe, self-resolving gastric distension has been reported. This dysfunction is consistent with clinical populations such as bulimics and the obese. The rate of performance progression of competitive eaters far exceeds that of athletes in mainstream sports, but the physiological adaptations required may be indicative of digestive dysfunction.


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