“It’s not really about the competition. Your biggest challenge in a race is yourself. You’re often racing against time. You’re frequently running everything through your mind. You are always competing against preconceived ideas. It’s not really the person next to you that you worry about.” This quote from American Olympic champion swimmer Summer Sanders was originally spoken in regards to swimming, but it also applies to the sport of competitive eating as well. While stomach capacity, training methods, technique(s), size, genetics, and many other physical aspects/features play important roles in how well you are able to perform during your various food challenges and eating contests, your mental attitude, determination, and toughness is what really decides whether you will actually win or lose the really tough competitions. If being a great competitive eater was easy, there would be way more people trying to become one, but unfortunately (fortunately for all of us!) it isn’t easy at all. Finishing the last few bites of a massive food challenge with only one minute left on the clock really has little to do with physical ability at that point, and it then becomes a mental war with yourself and your body.

How bad do you want to win?? There is no question about whether you can physically fit those last few bites in your body (you can!!), so the question is whether you are mentally strong enough to force them down without allowing your body to quit and “reverse” it all back up, causing you to be disqualified. You not only have to be mentally tough throughout the challenge, but you also have to be determined throughout the training process and even afterwards when you are recovering and burning off all the excess calories you just inhaled. This all definitely applies to winning eating contests as well. While jaw strength, technique(s), and stomach capacity separate the various levels of eaters, the thing that separates similar level eaters is their mental toughness and determination. If you do continue on with competitive eating for a while, you will most likely eventually find yourself in an eating contest that will be won in the last few seconds by just a few bites worth of food. The winner is going to be the person that is able to push through “the wall” and finish strong, and the loser will be the one who cannot mentally handle the pain and physical struggle, giving up with less than a minute left and settling for second place. You may even find yourself in an “eat off” (overtime) because the original contest ended in a “tie.” That brief competition will also be separated by mental toughness, and not physical ability.

While an eating contest, to an extent, is a battle against yourself and all your “preconceived ideas,” it is of course a race against other competitors as well, and many of your “thoughts” will involve those people who are attempting to defeat you. Our How To Train For An Eating Contest article, Stomach Capacity Training section, and all the other articles throughout this TIPS category (including other articles in this Eating Contest Tips section) were written to help you prepare yourself and your body both mentally and physically for all “eating” aspects involving only YOU and YOURSELF. Well this article has been written to help you analyze the people you will be compEATing against during all of your upcoming contests. To win an eating contest, you just have to eat one more of something than second place, and sometimes you only need to win by 1/2 or even 1/4. Therefore, the skill level(s) of all your competitors is obviously a major deal that you must prepare for before even arriving if possible, and more importantly something you must consider directly prior to and during the actual contest.

All of our tips are broken down into three sections: Analyzing before arriving, analyzing directly beforehand, and what to do during the contest using what you learned during the analysis process. While reading these, keep in mind this quote by Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military general: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Analyzing Your Competitors At Home Before Arriving

Thanks to advanced technology and the “social media world” we all now live in, it is possible to get valuable information about your potential competitors before you even get to the contest and actually meet them in person. Before continuing though, I need to address that this article applies to all eating contests other than ones specifically hosted by the “organizations” Major League Eating and All Pro Eating. There are many very advanced eaters competing at those contests who have years of experience, and therefore it would be wise to avoid those until you get a few other contests and competitions “under your belt.” Also, as you continue really delving further into the competitive eating world, you will learn that our “community” is actually very small (compared to the size your probably thought it was) and there aren’t really that many active competitive eaters who regularly compete at all the various major contests around the country. If you are outside the USA, then your country’s “eating community” is even smaller, without much organization at all. With that said (this isn’t a good thing), you don’t really need any help finding out who you’d be competing against during those contests. Before each event, a “press release” can typically be found online which announces all the major professional eaters traveling in and competing in the contest. You pretty much see most of the same names at all the big contests, so you will quickly learn all you need to know about who all you’ll be seeing there by reading that.

With all that said, there are multiple ways to find out the level of competition you’ll be eating against:

1. Generalize based on contest details – Hopefully by now you’ve read Analyze The Contest Details And Plan Ahead. Well once you find out all those details, it is fairly easy to generalize the level of competition you’ll be facing. If the contest is located in or near a larger city, at a popular restaurant or festival, and especially if there are great prizes (especially cash) awarded, there will probably be at least one or two “known” eaters there. If there really isn’t much of a prize awarded, then there most likely won’t be a great deal of competition, and there surely won’t be any professionals traveling there, simply because there is no prize that makes it worth the trip. Even if the contest is “amateur only,” that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be a high level of competition. Most contest hosts add that rule without having any knowledge about what a professional eater actually is. Therefore, some people who shouldn’t be allowed (per the rule) will get allowed and some people who should be allowed to compete won’t be able to due to the ignorance of the event host. You also have to remember that some people lie and give “fake names” so that they don’t show up during internet searches. The biggest thing to remember when generalizing based on contest details is that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

2. Check out the Social Media posts – A large majority of restaurants today have some type of Facebook page set up so they can interact with customers and update people about current specials and future events that their “followers” may be interested in going to. Almost all festivals have a Facebook page (or some other type of page) as well so that everyone interested can receive updates before and during the event, and then see links and photos showing how the event went afterwards. Since an eating contest is something that these restaurants and festivals want people to go participate in and come watch, there will surely be some posts advertising the competition and displaying major details. Check out the comments and see who “liked” the posts. If you see some questions about the contest asking various questions, feel free to “creep” their profile and see if those people actively compete in contests. They may or may not, but it definitely won’t hurt to do the research.

3. Contact the restaurant – Almost all contest hosts appreciate people signing up ahead of time, and you most likely have to contact somebody to find out all the necessary event details, so it would be wise to ask a few questions about the potential competition when asking all the other questions you have. Make sure you speak to somebody who actually is involved with the contest, and don’t just settle for the first person that answers the phone. More than likely, the person in charge of the event will let you know how many people have signed up and whether there is anybody that you should factor in as potential competition. They may even tell you who the winner was the previous year and how much they ate, along with whether they are signed up again. If they say there are people coming in from out-of-town, then you need to expect some high-caliber competitive eaters.

4. Check out Eatfeats.com – After doing those three things first, and this may be where you first learned about the contest if you followed the advice on Selecting The Eating Contest Right For You, take advantage of the massive database that Eatfeats.com has to offer. While it of course is not 100% complete, Eatfeats.com keeps great record of past winners of all the various eating contests, when the admin can find information available online. Because of that, there is a giant database of all the “eaters” who have won and competed in the various events. If you have names you are wondering about that you’ve never heard of before, just enter them all on Eatfeats and see what pops up. You may get some results and you may not. If nothing shows up, that person hasn’t participated in many contests before. That doesn’t mean you should not consider them as a potential competitor though!! Then of course if information does show up, you can see what level of eater he/she is.

Those are four great ways for helping you figure out any potential competitors while at home using technology before even arriving at the competition. By knowing the type of people you will be eating against beforehand, you will be able to prepare yourself better both physically and mentally, since the “competitive spirit” inside you will push you harder while training so that you can perform your best on competition day. You should train hard regardless of who is competing, but knowing there will be great competition will help push you even further.

Analyzing Your Competitors Directly Before The Contest Starts

Whether you learned anything while researching at home beforehand or not, you will still most definitely meet people competing in the contest when you actually get there who you do not know. Even if you get to the event area an hour before the contest commences, you still most likely won’t really know who all is in the contest until ten to twenty minutes beforehand when everyone begins gathering together and the event coordinator starts going over the rules with everyone. There are multiple different ways to decipher between serious people and bystanders who are just there to have fun, simply based on how they act before the contest. Then there are more ways to analyze people during the few moments directly before the contest when everyone is lined up and the names are being announced. Use these tips to decide if somebody is there to win or just there for a free meal:

1. Anybody who signs up last minute due to peer pressure – Especially if the contest was not well marketed or if there is an entrance fee, there may not be many people signed up to compete. When that happens, there is usually an announcement made to everyone asking more people to actually enter the contest. Look around and watch the people who sign up during this period after that announcement. If friends are basically shoving them up to the line so they compete, then nine times out of ten those people aren’t anybody you need to worry about.

2. Anybody chatting about anything other than something related to the contest – You will never see a serious athlete joking around and unfocused right before a big game. Listen to the various conversations going on around you while everyone is together in one place. If some people are talking about anything other than the contest, then they are there mostly for fun rather than victory. Don’t get involved with those discussions!!

3. Anybody that looks and acts like they know what they are doing – This doesn’t work all the time and obviously it’s not an accurate way to generalize how skilled someone is as an eater, but if somebody is really keeping to themselves and looks like they are focused on the contest while also analyzing competitors (just like you are), then you at least need to have them on your radar during the competition and check on how they are doing.

4. Anybody who brought their own drinks/music/cups/equipment – If you are competing in a contest that allows dunking and there is someone who brought their own stuff to use, then that person is obviously a contender who you need to keep track of. If you see somebody with headphones listening to their own music, then a very large majority of the time that person is somebody you need to be aware of, since they probably also act like a #3. Basically, if someone brought their own stuff for the contest, they obviously aren’t there just for a free meal.

5. Anybody checking to make sure there is more available – To save on potential waste, typically all eating contest hosts start competitors out with a limited amount of whatever food(s) is involved. For example, each person may start out with ten hot dogs or one large pizza. If you see somebody checking to make sure their are more readily available, that person is obviously there to EAT a lot of them, and you need to keep track of them.

6. Anybody wearing FoodChallenges.com apparel!! – If you see somebody wearing FC gear from our store, whether it be a hat or shirt, then obviously they’ve read all the same articles you have access to, so treat this person seriously, whether they physically look like a skilled eater or not. He or she is analyzing you as well!!

7. Anybody that ate recently – While listening to conversations around you, you may learn that somebody just ate a full meal recently. These people obviously don’t really know what they are doing, so just exclude them.

8. If the contest is for a particular charity organization – Some eating contests are set up as fundraisers to benefit a particular person, family, or charity in need, due to unfortunate circumstances. Before these particular contests, try to find out who is there to support the “cause,” but doesn’t really care whether they win or lose. Those people obviously don’t need to be on your radar during the contest, since they didn’t even prepare for it.

9. “I just want to say I’ve been in an eating contest” – Especially if there is no entrance fee, there may be a few people that signed up just because being in an actual eating contest was on their “bucket list.” You cannot just automatically discount all these people, but many of them are there just for the fun experience, and not to win.

10. Anybody following an absolutely terrible strategy – If you see somebody before the contest do any of the things listed in our How To Lose A Competitive Eating Contest article, such as pouring ketchup, syrup, or some other type of sauce on the food, then they probably aren’t anybody you should worry about during the contest.

Those ten tips are all things you can do with your eyes and ears without ever even opening your mouth. The best thing you can do though before the competition is just talk to a few of the people you will be competing against. Nine times out of ten they will be happy to speak to you and want to find out more about you as well. Ask them if they’ve competed before in any contests and how they think they will do. If the defending champion is back, speak to that person and see what tips he or she has to offer. Usually, that person will be happy and proud that you considered them as somebody to ask for advice. Find out everything you can in every way that you can, and typically it won’t take long to figure out who the real “eaters” are that you should consider keeping track of throughout the contest. If there are any “ringers” there that you did not already know about, somebody will surely mention them during a conversation. Just be sure not to believe everything you see or hear, and please maintain a realistic analysis, knowing you’ll get better at that as you gain experience. Now that you’ve done all the studying you can possibly do, let’s discuss how to take advantage of that knowledge during the contest.

How To Use That Information During The Eating Contest

Now that you have a solid understanding of who your competition is before everything actually begins, it’s time to use that information to your advantage! You will want to keep track of how your main competition is doing throughout the contest so that you know where you stand in the order, and whether you need to speed up in order to stay ahead of them. You will also be able to know if you have a comfortable lead and can simply “coast” to victory at the very end during those last few minutes. For this reason, you need to do your best to be placed next to your top competitor(s) or at least close enough to easily keep up with how they are doing. You need to mostly focus on yourself and your own progress, but it would be smart to check on them every once in a while just so that you aren’t surprised and caught off guard at the end. Losing by a few seconds or by just one item when you know you could have pushed harder is NOT a very good feeling that you want to ever experience. If the contest is broken up into multiple “heats,” then you need to try to go after your competitors or at least at the same time, since you don’t really want them going after you, doing the same thing you’re trying to do to them.

You do NOT want to have to rely on the contest announcer for a “play-by-play” letting you know how everyone is doing, since most announcers aren’t very helpful, due to the fact that most have no experience with any eating contests. Sometimes they don’t even do a great job of letting everyone know how much time is left. Keep track of your competitors yourself and you will be much more confident throughout the contest. Just don’t focus too much on everyone else and not enough on yourself and how you are doing. There will be some “down time” where you are chewing or doing something else that doesn’t require you to use all five focused “senses.” Use that time to quickly check up on everyone else, and then make sure you stay ahead of them. Use that knowledge as fuel to push yourself and go faster!! Whether you win by one or one hundred, a win is a win and you should be proud of yourself since you just spent the last week training and preparing to achieve that hard-earned contest victory.

With all of that said, it’s time for a minor “disclaimer.” When I refer to your “competitor(s),” I am meaning the other people in the contest who are similar to you regarding eating speed, stomach capacity, and skill level. A significant portion of this article is dedicated to helping you “weed out” the lower-level eaters who you don’t need to factor in as actual competition, whom you should easily be able to defeat. What we don’t really discuss is the possibility of there being eaters who are at a much higher level than you currently are. There is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting that somebody is way “out of your league,” as long as you are being realistic rather than weak-minded. If you haven’t already, read All Stomachs Were Not Created Equally. A person may be the best athlete at their school, or even in their country, but that doesn’t mean they would win an Olympic gold medal. There are other people out there better than them, and they can’t really do anything about that. Many people can be great at something, but only a few are genetically gifted enough to be the best. There are about ten “currently active” eaters who are “out of my league,” and then a few others who I think I’d have a hard time beating, but it would be a possibility given the right food(s) and rules. I don’t really get involved with many eating contests anymore, but if I did compete with these people who are on another level above me, I would not consider them as “competition.” I’d spend my time focusing on beating the other competitors around my level.

You should definitely consider doing the same thing if you know there is one or more great eaters competing in the particular event, whom you know are much better and more experienced than you. Falsely thinking that you have a chance of beating them will lead to absolutely zero positive results. If you do try to keep up with them, which you may be able to do for the first minute, you will end up very frustrated once they begin getting further and further ahead of you. This especially will happen during a longer contest, and that feeling of dismay will throw you off your “game” and cause you to perform much worse than you would have if you just focused on yourself and the people you have a chance at beating. You also risk choking or getting sick, since you are trying to eat at a pace that your body isn’t used to and cannot really handle well. If there is a large cash prize or if the contest just happens to be in an area near where an outstanding eater is located, then you may be best off going into the contest knowing that you may not win first place. You may not even win second place! Don’t let that keep you from working hard to perform your best and have as much fun as possible. That experience you gain by being in that contest with those eaters is invaluable, which will help you as you progress later on down the road. Know that they were once in the same exact situation that you were just in back when they first began eating.

While you don’t want to stare and worry about your competitors throughout the entire race, you don’t just want to put your head down, close your eyes, and try as hard as you can without having any idea what is going on around you either. You’ll never see a sprinter try to run a race blind-folded and I’m sure that Summer Sanders never swam a race blind-folded either. Stay focused on yourself and your own game throughout your upcoming competitions, but be aware of what is going on around you. That will be much easier to do of course if you do your “homework” beforehand (along with all your other training and strategizing), following the advice above, and know who you need to be aware of. Watch YouTube videos and use all the other resources available to find out any information you can about any possible eaters you may be competing against. If you do that, you will have a very fun and enjoyable competitive experience (because you will have much more confidence), and you may even win! To help ensure victory, follow the tips in our next article, Speed Eating: How To Eat Food Faster.

NOTE: You will get better at “guess-timating” how much other people can eat as you gain more experience.

Thanks for reading tips for analyzing your competitors and checking out FoodChallenges.com!!

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