A Sobering Experience

Forgive my candor, but I write today about my pee.

You see, like our canine and feline friends, after every pee, and poop for that matter, I inspect the contents of my toilet bowl. Mind, you I don’t stick my head all the way in there to put my nose right up to it, but I do give a good look and take in its aroma. I do this for this same reason dogs, cats, and I should imagine other mammals do, chiefly, as a gauge of my health. Bodily excrement says a lot about the state the state of one’s health, and from the yellow and brown stuff, I can get a good idea about if I am well hydrated and have sufficient fiber in my diet, among other things.

Then, the other day, something odd happened. My pee didn’t smell they way it should. I knew instantly that something was off, but what? I stood above the bowl with furrowed brow, and exhorted all the powers of my olfactory. Like a sommelier detecting the flavor profile of a Pinot Noir, I inhaled attempting to distill what had tainted my pristine pee.

I was flummoxed.

My first thoughts went to asparagus, which always adds it own particular bouquet. However, I counted back to realize that I had not eaten any for four days, so it couldn’t be that. I went to bed with the mystery unsolved.

The following morning, upon returning to the loo, I duly peed, and again my nose was accosted by this offending aroma. Determined, I took a deep whiff, and processed it through the data bank in my head. The olfactory nerve is closely tied to the amygdala and the hippocampus parts of the brain where much of our long term memory is stored. My pee had smelled like this before, but when, and for what reason.

Some hours later, it hit my like a ton of bricks. My pee smelled like it would if I had taken a dose of antibiotics.

How could it be? I had not taken any antibiotics, nor medication of any kind for nearly three years, but I distinctly recalled the smell of my pee during a round of penicillin to clear up an infection before having some teeth ripped out.

I soon realized when and where I had been unintentionally doped.

I don’t eat out often, or at least not as often as many people I know, and when I do, I make every reasonable effort to eat healthy, wholesome food. At home, all meats and produce are strictly organic, or at least all-natural. (For those who don’t know the difference, foods can only claim to be organic if every step in the chain is certified organic, whereas natural means that the primary food product has been raised or grown without the aid of pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones, etc, but the soil or food from which it was nourished may not have been without these additives.) Which leads me to my lunch out.

It happened at a popular and otherwise pretty good ( 3 out of 5 stars on yelp.com ) restaurant in Santa Monica, California. I ordered a turkey / avocado club sandwich on toasted sourdough and a pale ale to drink. I was proud of myself for abstaining on the french fries. Aside from that, other than water, organic oatmeal, fruit and some leftover, homemade spaghetti and meatballs made with all natural ingredients, I ate nothing else during the day in question.

So how convinced am I that I had been unintentionally doped with a healthy dose of antibiotic courtesy of the turkey who gave his life for my lunch? Well, I have no scientific data to back it up. I did some research to try and discern how prevalent the use of antibiotics is in poultry production and was unable to find a specific number; however, the FDA recently published guidelines to ween farmers off of the use of antibiotics on their livestock. The FDA is motivated by the fact that the population as a whole evidenced developing an immunity to antibiotics through food consumption, the results of which could pose an unintended health risk in the form of higher infection rates and the inability to treat them in the acute phase. I also learned that 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used in the non-theraputic treatment of livestock. I take it, then, that my hypothesis, while unproven, is highly probable. It made me wonder what else I have eaten without my knowledge, despite being more careful than the average bear.

While this has nothing to do directly with Alberto Contador, Li Fuyu or any other riders who claim to have been unintentionally doped by innocently consuming a food or supplement, it does serve as reminder of what we non-professional athletes seemingly take for granted every time we eat or drink. It highlights how so many years of hard work, suffering and sacrifice can be wasted by just one bite of something tainted. Imagine the next time you go out for dinner, you arrive to work the following morning to find a Controlle Dopage awaits you at your desk. Though you have done nothing intentionally wrong, you could be fired from your job and your reputation publicly, and forever, sullied because of a turkey / avocado club.

For me at least, it was a sobering experience.

By the way, I consulted WADA’s 2010 list of banned substances and antibiotics are not on them.

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  1. Steve Christensen

    Sorry George, but sounds like bologna to me.

    Two major flaws: first, your infection three years ago was more likely to change the odor than the antibiotics, and second, despite your dietary compliance, I highly doubt that you’ve been able to avoid medicated meat and the ensuing odor for the last three years and beyond.

    Your Contador point may have validity, but your pee story just stinks (with all due respect).

  2. randomactsofcycling

    Didn’t happen to change the brand of toilet cleaner by any chance?
    Oh and if I were you, I’d go for the Floyd defence – my pee is always some shade of different after a beer.

  3. josh

    not to really bash you too hard mate, but this paragraph might be the one of the smuggest, whitest and most elitest things i have ever read: “It happened at a popular and otherwise pretty good ( 3 out of 5 stars on yelp.com ) restaurant in Santa Monica, California. I ordered a turkey / avocado club sandwich on toasted sourdough and a pale ale to drink. I was proud of myself for abstaining on the french fries. Aside from that, other than water, organic oatmeal, fruit and some leftover, homemade spaghetti and meatballs made with all natural ingredients, I ate nothing else during the day in question.”

    the only way i think it could be worse is if you mentioned that you used your ipad (while sitting in your benz, which had your serotta attached to the roof) to browse the yelp review.

  4. Robot

    @Josh – In George’s defense here, who of us does NOT live a bourgeois existence. We debate the philosophical nuances of bicycle riding and racing. The endeavor is stereotypically smug, white and elite at its core. I don’t have exact numbers on our readership, but there aren’t a lot of Sudanese subsistence farmers reading RKP, so point made, but beware of pot/black/kettlism, eh?

  5. MCH

    Congrats, you’re now qualified to attend the Sarah Palin school of journalism, where idle speculation always trumps scientific evidence. If this doesn’t suit you, you may have a career as a defense attorney for doping athletes.
    OK, sarcasm aside, I am serious in stating that an uniformed, or at best an internet-informed opinion, is simply out of place in a world of Phd scientists with decades of education, training, and experience using mega-sophisticated mass spectrometers, etc.

  6. mark

    Welcome to RKP, George. Who knew that sympathizing with Contador while talking about how meticulous you are with not only your diet but your inspection of your own shit is not the best way to build a relationship of trust with your readership?

  7. Barry

    George, while I think you have already taken enough of a beating for your entry, I raise only two points for you to consider:

    1. Beware the confirmation or hindsight bias. Just because your pee smelled differently than you remember it did in the past, and you happened to eat a turkey sandwich recently, does not imply causality. Assuming this means that you have never ingested antibiotics through “impure” food in the three years since you took your last round of drugs, since you surely would have noticed it during your ritual wafting. Which brings me to my second point.

    2. If you live in the US and you think you never eat meat that was not subjected to a diet of pharmaceuticals, other than a turkey sandwich once every 3 years, then you are either hyper attentive about your home diet (maybe) and never eat out at places other than organic restaurants (false by admission), or you are living in a dream world.

    My guess is dream world. Don’t believe me? Watch Supersize Me, Meet your Meat, Food Inc., King Corn, etc. They did the research, and it is not in your favor on this one.

  8. c.monaco

    Woof. Georgie, really enjoyed the read and empathize with the vigilance you have for your wellbeing. It is pretty incredible that you receive such a reception for your transparency. Who among us could not benefit from these practices? Given the familiarity we do not have with you (this is your first post, after all, right?) any skepticism expressed in comments here smacks of “uniformed, or at best an internet-informed opinion,” “smug[ness],” – I refrain from using the bigot term “whitest” – “and most elitest [sic]” and “is simply out of place.” Does any commentor have familiarity with George’s qualifications other than what he graciously provided us? Has the food-film docu-craze taught us not to make informed food-purchasing decisions as George has mentioned? SORRYTHATISOUNDDEFENSIVEBUTALLTHISHYPOCRISYANDCOFFEEKINDOFMAKESMECRAZY.

    @Robot – In a word : Word, right? Benefit of the doubt, innocent until proven guilty, GOODGOD! Padraig, Robot, I love you guys. Please keep up the truly progressive journalism you’ve practiced.

  9. ryderider

    I am pretty sure that this type of stuff is why people outside of cycling have to qualify us as cyclists, Read: Identity by Padraig.

    While the article may be a bit over the top, for those of you slamming George, admit you at least look at your pee to get a gauge on your hydration habits (and if that pound or two on the scale is a result of said hydration). See? We are all freaks.

    1. Padraig

      Ryderider: Thanks for bringing a reality-check to the conversation. I absolutely check out the color, every freakin’ day and when I was sick recently, I was absolutely dismayed at that weak, orange stream.

  10. João

    It would be nice if any doctor could jump in, but how the antibiotics can get to the meat anyway? IMHO the fact that you smelled it in your pee means the (human) body get rid of most it as soon as possible (it’s not really nutritious) and just a bit would remain on muscles…

    What puzzles me is: how good was your sandwich anyway? I mean, to get from (what I assume to be) a few slices turkey meat enough antibiotics to actually smell something different in your pee, I’d guess said turkey was on an antibiotics-only diet. So it’s meat would have a distinctive taste (not to say smell) for sure.

    Anyway, I remember once tasting antibiotics when I was a kid, can’t say if from biting the pill before swallowing or whatever, and it’s taste is awful. That’s why they come in gelatin pills. It’s hard to believe one can eat something with a considerable amount of antibiotics and be unaware of any weird taste.

  11. Mike

    One of the aspects of the commentary on RKP that I appreciate is the civility reflected in the posts . While we might not always agree with a perspective presented in an article or with each other’s posts, I find that the majority of the time the readership is gracious in the disagreements that are posted (and often injected with good natured ribbing). This is a vast difference, one I believe to be superior to, too much of the commentary provided on other sites.

  12. Kev

    Nice hypothesis, but I think flawed.
    The amount of antibiotics that would be required to elicit such a response would have to be at least a therapeutic human dose (or multiple doses). If (and I say if) the turkey consumed did have antibiotics ingested, the amount contained in a small amount of muscle would be practically impossible to detect, let alone cause the response you perceived.

  13. Pass pass

    Looks like Josh reads bikesnobnyc too. Anyways…

    Sometimes bodies do strange stuff, I’m happy to hear you try to eat well and support better farming practices.

  14. 68GT

    aka George Tamayo…

    First of all, I’m very happy to have contributed my first piece to RKP and if Padraig will have me, I hope to contribute some more pieces very soon. I’m also pleased to have received so many comments, even if they are all not flattering. If you’re not willing to stick your neck out from time to time, then you shouldn’t enter the race, right?

    Anyway, all points are well taken, but I wanted to address a few specifically…

    1. @MCH…. when something is written in the first person, it’s not journalism. Of all the comments here, being even tenuously to Sarah Palin is closest of I’ve been to getting kicked in the nuts for a long time.

    2. @Josh… if I may quote the immortal words of Sgt. Hulka, “lighten up Francis.” And thanks Robot, well said.

    3. It is stated a couple of times in the story that I have no scientific or medical data to back up my claim. I didn’t set out to right a piece for the New England Journal of Medicine, and besides, the scientific validity of my claim is somewhat beside the point. I made my hypothesis based on some of my own observations and some admittedly light internet research and make no pretense about it otherwise.

    4. Yes, I do try my best to eat a healthy diet, but I don’t always succeed as I can attest by the cinnamon roll I just finished, and yes, I am certain that I have eaten antibiotic fed food without my knowledge numerous times over my lifetime.

    5. But as I said, this is really all beside the point. Whether the change in the aroma of my pee was in fact caused by my turkey sandwich or some other reason, it was the assumption real or perceived that served as the inspiration. Despite trying to eat the right thing under the circumstances, I may have ingested something I didn’t intend to, the result of which makes no difference whatsoever. BUT, what if it did? What if I were a pro, and it was something on the WADA list of banned substances? Instead of having fun writing this article, I would instead be fighting for my reputation and my career. Hence the sobering thought; chiefly, that if Contador, and others in similar straits, is telling the truth, the level of helpless and despair they must be feeling is certainly unimaginable for the rest of us. Statistically, we have good reason to be dubious, yet we have also cause to give some benefit of the doubt.

    Thanks for reading.



  15. peter

    You say here that writing in the first person is not journalism. “exercising your personal conscience” is one of the ten elements of journalism and best expressed in an editorial.

    1. Padraig

      Peter has a point, but I must assert a great deal of good journalism has been written in the first person. However, this really isn’t a direction the conversation should go. I respect that most of you have rejected the piece and George’s assessment of his body. Let’s move on if we can.

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