This Sunday, May 15 at 2 p.m. competitors in the Ninth Annual Niko Niko’s World Gyro-Eating Championship will bite into pita after pita as they battle for the delicious glory of $5,000 and the trademark belt. This isn't 23-year-old Matt "Megatoad" Stonie's first time in the contest—he won it, setting a still-standing world record in 2014—but it's his first go-round as the world's top ranked Major League Eating "athlete."
Last year, he dethroned eight-time Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest Joey Chestnut, the previous number one eater on the planet. Chestnut still holds the world record for hot dog consumption with 69 eaten in 10 minutes. But according to Stonie, gyros are less standard and therefore less reliable. "They make them like they make them in the restaurant, so the gyros' size and proportions vary a little," he explains. That means success could be partially attributed to luck of the draw.
Will Stonie beat Chestnut again on Sunday? "The Chestnut/Stonie rivalry is earning its place among sport’s greatest rivalries, alongside Ali/Frazier, Borg/McEnroe and Mantle/Maris,” MLE chairman George Shea said in vintage carnival barker form in a press release. “In the future, people will look back on May 15 in Houston as a classic matchup.”
We checked in with Stonie to see how he's preparing for (edible) war.
Houstonia: In 2014, you ate 24 gyros in 10 minutes—last year you ate 22. Was it disappointing not to beat your own record?
Matt Stonie: It’s a little bit disappointing. I’m a competitor. I can’t be disappointed with how I did just because I didn't beat the world record. I’m definitely vying for that 25 this year.
What are your tricks for eating a gyro in competition?
Saying I eat it like I would in a restaurant is a stretch. There’s no dunking in this contest. Just some people separate the meat from the pita. I just grab it and put it down. It’s just great to pick it up and eat it like normal.
How does that compare to hot dogs?
Niko Niko's gyros are delicious—no bias. It’s not just because I'm promoting—it's one of the best-tasting contests of the year. They make the gyros just like at the restaurant. They have tzatziki sauce, tomatoes and onions and legitimate meat inside. It’s great food.
After having to eat so many, do you still enjoy gyros?
It’s delicious. At the end of the contest you fill your mouth completely. There was this one year where I filled my mouth, time was over and that was the most enjoyable part. No lie. It was one of those comedic moments. They’re that good.
A lot of people travel more than I do. I pick the contests [for foods] I like. There’s a gyoza one I love and I just came back from doing pumpkin pie.
When you travel, do you get to try restaurants, or is it all about competition?
I’m in training the days prior. Even two days prior, I'm consuming liquid carbohydrates and protein shakes and keeping as empty as possible. [The contest] happens once a year, why waste it by going to a restaurant? It’s a shame. I travel around the country, I see great parts of the country and unique places and I have to drink protein shakes.
I read that you’re in school to become a dietitian. Is that true?
Mostly true. I took a lot of nutrition courses because I’m really interested in biology and chemistry. Of course, I took a personal interest. I wanted to find out what I’m doing to do to my body. But I don't think I would be a good nutritionist. I’m a drill sergeant type of guy—I don't think that flies too well.
But being aware of nutrition for me is crucial. I've balanced out over the years with supplement intake and protein powders to help the body get back to normal as quick as possible. I’m not going to fast and take a multivitamin— that’s a mistake. I try to my balance salt and fats and whatnot. The first few years I was doing this, I was waking up really groggy. It really does help to figure our how you body works and you’ll wake up with a little more energy.