If it’s on a restaurant menu and billed as an impossible food challenge, Missourian Randy Santel has probably beat it. The 28-year-old professional eater has tucked away staggering fares: Kitchen sinks piled with ice cream and tire-sized pizzas, six-pound burritos and towering hamburgers. His YouTube channel spotlights hundreds of food challenges, some of which end with white knuckle, buzzer-beater moments.
What’s more stunning than the volume of food, though, is Santel’s figure—he moonlights as a bodybuilder. “I’m really, really good at losing weight,” Santel told The Daily Beast.
Santel is a paradox: a brawny, 6’5” muscleman with the ability to binge spectacularly. And last month might have been his most ambitious undertaking yet: 45 days and 46 challenges in England, Ireland, and Scotland. His United Kingdom odyssey ended Feb. 8 after eating 205 pounds of food—or, according to one English tabloid, 200,000 calories.
For over a month, Santel dined on sprawling English breakfasts and massive shepherd’s pies. A good day looked like his stop in Millom, England: a passel of cheering fans, a front-page feature in the local paper, a six-pound burger stomached successfully. That night culminated with karaoke and an entourage of star-struck admirers.
A bad day looked like his time in Perth, Scotland, where he was defeated by an eight-pound tray of macaroni and cheese.
Santel’s final record? Forty-two wins, four losses.
Though the trek ranged across four countries, Santel says his time was devoted almost entirely to eating. If he wanted to take in The Tate or Edinburgh Castle, it would have to be on foot and while burning calories. “Most of my cardio was sightseeing,” he said. “I’d jog around the entire city in two or three hours.”
Following most challenges was a pub crawl with fans. There are many, and they often come bearing gifts: chocolate bars, Santel’s favorite snack. Nights are spent crashing at friends’ and fans’ flats, or—if no one in the neighborhood is particularly hospitable—at hostels.
“[Then] the next morning I go to another city and do it all over again,” Santel said.
The trip’s capstone, he says, was success at Mac’s Cafe in Burton-Upon-Trent, England: Four foot-long breakfast sandwiches and a bowl of chips. He was the first ever to win.
The nadir was any meal involving chili, his bête noire. “My body doesn’t react well to chili,” he said. “If something is seven pounds and has chili in it… uh oh.”
The longer tours do come with a price: steep weight gain. On the UK journey, he went from 275 pounds to 300. “I might be 250 on a Friday, [and then] on Monday be 270,” Santel said. But it’s a fleeting, sodium-fueled weight gain. “I’ll be right back to 250 on Thursday.”
When Santel returns home to Missouri, it’s a regimen of weight lifting and an abstemious diet of soup, eggs, and sandwiches. And he’s careful to avoid injury: While in the UK he vomited only four times (never intentionally); he receives regular blood tests; and he has pledged to call off challenges if he feels ill.
“I don’t do this to hurt myself,” Santel said.
Santel’s journey as a professional eater-et-bodybuilder began in 2010, after shedding several pounds in a body transformation contest. When he won, he had a strange way of celebrating: Devouring a 28-inch pizza with a friend, which earned the pair $500. He picked up more challenges throughout Missouri, and then branched out. In Seattle, he once ate 33 pounds of food in three days.
“The fun game was to see how many food challenges I could do while still maintaining abs,” he said. And so began the strange act of balancing food excess with bodybuilding—a practice guided by willpower and deep nutritional acumen.
Santel’s career comes on the heels of an adolescence spent overweight. As a fifth-grader, he weighed 205 pounds. He hit 346 pounds in high school, where he played football as a lineman.
Now trim, Santel also possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s food challenges. His website, FoodChallenges.com, is a hub for competitive eaters. And his next quest is developing a nutrition plan for the masses.
“Then I’ll basically have one big food empire,” Santel said.