LAS VEGAS (AP) | Miki Sudo is downing oysters at the Orleans.
Although they're not her favorite, Sudo grabs a half shell, raises it to her mouth, sucks out the raw oyster and swallows it whole. Chewing would take too long in competition.
A few minutes later, all that remains is a stack of empty shells.
"I don't even feel like I ate," Sudo says.
Welcome to a practice round for one of the world's top competitive eaters. Sudo is ranked by Major League Eating No. 1 among women competitive eaters worldwide and No. 4 among men and women, having fallen into the sport in 2011 after scarfing down a 12-pound bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup in Chinatown. Sudo won a $1,510 jackpot and found her calling.
A day after the oyster session, Sudo downs platefuls of pot stickers, prepping for a different competition. Last summer, she won the women's division of Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, sucking down 34 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
How do Sudo and her colleagues do it? What does it take to be a competitive eater? And why don't they weigh 300 pounds?
It sounds counterintuitive, but competitive eaters are skilled, trained athletes. Most work hard at their craft and devote a significant amount of time to preparing for competitions.
Warning: Do not try this at home. These people are professionals, and consuming too much water can be deadly.
Most competitors do dry timed runs at home before a competition. Joey Chestnut, who compares his training regimen to that of a bodybuilder or marathoner, says he practices once a week by eating massive quantities of whatever food will be featured in his next competition. It helps him shave time off the clock and perfect his technique for the particular food.
Some eaters videotape their practices so they can critique and improve their techniques.
STRENGTHEN YOUR JAW
Masticator muscles in the jaw are among the strongest in the human body and are a key factor in being able to grind food quickly. Competitive eaters often work the muscles by chewing gum -- anywhere from six to 25 pieces at a time.
CONTROL YOUR BREATHING
Eaters find a workable rhythm for breathing and stick to it. If they don't breathe enough, their heart rate will quicken. If they breathe too often, they'll lose time.
Exercise is crucial for competitive eaters, to maintain their body weight and limit belly fat, which can impede food intake.
Rodriguez said he spends about 12 hours a week exercising, doing mostly weight training and a little bit of cardio.
A person's abdomen can only fit so much, and the leaner it is, the more food can be shoved in.
Many competitors work out an hour or two before a competition to increase their appetite and stimulate their muscles.
The key to successful competitive eating is stretching your stomach. Most competitors do that over time by guzzling increasingly large amounts of water or milk -- up to a gallon at a time, usually in only a minute or two.
Competitors also eat huge amounts of food. The key is low-calorie, high-fiber, water-rich meals. Yasir Salem, who in 2013 won the Cannoli Eating Competition, trains by eating 6 to 8 pounds of steamed broccoli and cauliflower topped with a couple of pounds of sauerkraut in about 20 minutes. Others stretch their stomachs with watermelon, lettuce, cabbage or grapes.
Stomachs stretch after you eat a meal but typically shrink back to normal size. Repeatedly eating large quantities of food can cause stomach muscles to weaken and enlarge the "normal" size of the stomach.
HIT THE BUFFET
In the week leading up to a competition, Juan Rodriguez, a valley resident who is the 11th-best competitive eater in the world, eats at least three buffet meals, eating platefuls of food for up to three hours. He tries to fill two plates of food from each section: Italian, Chinese, American.
"Living in Vegas is a great advantage because we have all the buffets at our disposal," Rodriguez said.
It's unlikely the average diner can down 103 hamburgers in eight minutes like competitive eating champ Joey Chestnut or swallow 57 cow brains in 15 minutes like gurgitating guru Takeru Kobayashi. But how about a six-pound burrito in 45 minutes? Or 87 ounces of noodle soup in a half-hour? That's more doable. In fact, it has been done here. A growing number of Las Vegas restaurants have added oversized food challenges to their menus. It's marketing brilliance -- and gastronomical torture.
IT'S COMPETITION TIME!
Eating competitions typically last 10 to 12 minutes.
Depending on the food type, winners are determined by the number of items eaten, as with hot dogs, or the weight of the food consumed, as with chicken wings.
Prizes typically range from bragging rights to a few thousand dollars.