Alex "Moose" Perez was so sick after eating several slices of ghost pepper pizza that he coughed up blood for a several days.
"I thought I was going to die. That's how intense the pain was," says the Allen resident who is an official "pro eater."
But such agony is confined to ghost peppers, he says. Perez, 41, regularly eats competitively, stuffing his face with sushi or Twinkies or burritos or whatever the dish of the day is. Most of the time, the competitions are intense but fun, he says.
Perez, now the No. 50 eater in the world with Major League Eating, is one of several notable names expected at the World Tamale Eating Championship on Saturday, Sept. 24 as part of Lewisville's Western Days Festival.
Prepping for an eating competition is strategic and a little gross. Perez gives us the gory details.
What do you do the day before an eating competition to prepare?
Alex "Moose" Perez: I don't eat any kind of meat. It's simply fruits and veggies the day before. And, definitely, lots of water. ... I'd say about 2-3 gallons of water throughout the entire day.
What do you eat for breakfast the morning of a competition?
I'll eat eggs and a protein shake and coffee. Always coffee the day of the competition.
Do you have any eating competition rituals -- things you have to do before each one?
I used to have a shot of tequila. I haven't done that since I've become a pro eater.
I always have the ritual of putting on my bandana right before the competition. And I do this mouth/jaw stretch and full body stretch. Then, I have to listen to electro-house music [like Kaskade, Steve Lawler]. ... It gets me kind of pumped up. It motivates me to get up there and do my thing and devour the food.
What's going through your mind as you're stuffing your face in the middle of the competition?
There's some nerves. ... I'm just like, 'OK, right hand drink, left hand food.' You start going through that motion in your head. Eat, drink. You're just thinking about that throughout the entire 10 minutes. Thinking about the motion. You're not trying to think of chewing. You're trying to swallow.
What does it feel like after you've finished eating?
I never taste the food. I don't have time to taste! ... Those last seconds, I'm shoving as much food in as possible [ -- a phrase he calls 'chipmunking'].
Immediately after, oh wow, that might hurt. Your throat is sore. Your esophagus is sore.
Everything hurts because you just stretched out that esophagus and the mouth. But then it goes away. When you've been doing it as long as I have, it goes away. ... It's almost like a freak of nature.
Do you get sick in the next day or two?
No, I don't have issues with my stomach. I don't have any problems whatsoever after a food competition. It's just like any other day.
It's mind over matter. Because I was in the Marine Corps, pain is nothing. I accept pain, I like a little bit of pain.
I celebrate the pain, the agony. I turn it into something positive.
Tell us one horror story about an eating competition gone awry.
I did the ghost pepper pizza challenge at The Back 9 in Addison. I had eaten half the pie already. ... All of a sudden, my body just went into shock. There's no other way to phrase it. I couldn't breathe, I was gasping for air, I felt like I'd been punched in the lungs. Then I was coughing up blood.
I was saying my last prayers, I thought I was going to die.
It was the worst pain ever. I knew there were some bad side effects, but me being Mr. I Love Pain I wanted to put myself through the crucible. If I can do ghost peppers and put myself through the most extreme [challenges], anything else is just gravy.
I am officially done with ghost peppers. ... I've done burritos, I've done moonpies, I've done sushi, I've done Twinkies ... nothing brings the pain like ghost peppers.