NEW YORK -- Hot dog eating champion Joey Chestnut estimates he eats about 20,000 calories in one shot at food competitions, but he says his doctor doesn't mind.
''In the long run I'm really not consuming that many more calories than most people,'' the four-time Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest champion said Friday at an appearance ahead of the yearly Fourth of July eat-off. ''I run. I really try to stay healthy. I count my calories rigorously when I'm not doing the contests.''
The San Jose, Calif., resident said that at 27, he's young enough to get away with his competitive binging for a few more years. His doctor checks his blood work and has told him not to worry as long as he gives himself time to recover, doesn't gain weight and doesn't develop diabetes, Chestnut said.
Chestnut is 6'1'' and weighs 218 pounds. A physically active man of his age, weight and height should be eating 3,200 calories a day to maintain his weight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 2009, the contest's reigning champion set a world record when he ate 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Last year, he won with just 54 dogs.
On Friday, Chestnut gathered near New York's City Hall with other eaters including the presumed female front-runner, 105-pound Sonya ''The Black Widow'' Thomas.
This is the first year Nathan's is holding a separate eat-off for women. Sponsor Pepto Bismol has created ornate championship belts for the winners -- one in mustard yellow and one in pepto pink.
Last year's competition was overshadowed by the arrest of previous six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi, who jumped on the stage after Chestnut's victory. The 33-year-old from Japan has refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating and so was barred from competing.
This year, Kobayashi will hold his own unofficial event miles away on a Manhattan rooftop. He'll watch the Nathan's contest on TV and try to out-eat all the competitors.