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A Pork Burrito Just Ruined Her Competitive Career, Olympic Runner Claims

She's been banned for four years after testing positive for Nandrolone.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

A record-holding Olympic runner has been banned from competing in her beloved sport for four years—including at this summer's upcoming Olympics in Tokyo—after testing positive for Nandrolone. She claims the performance-enhancing substance was in her system because of a pork burrito she ate just hours before the test.

In December 2020, Shelby Houlihan, a 28-year-old who holds the American records for the 1,500- and 5,000-meter races, purchased the burrito from a food truck near her home in Beaverton, Ore. just 10 hours before being tested, according to Sports Illustrated. Nandrolone, which can be found in pig organ meat, is also known to increase muscle mass, Global Sports Advocates lawyer Paul Greene says.

Houlihan was notified of her positive test result on January 14, 2021, by the Athletics Integrity Unit panel, who unanimously decided to ban her for four years. The decision was just upheld earlier this week by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) even after Houlihan completed further testing and submitted a food diary, Sports Illustrated reports.

Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now

In an Instagram post, Houlihan—who competed in her first Olympics in Rio de Janerio in 2016—says she is "devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed" by the announcement.

Houlihan's Instagram post reads in its entirety:

"Since I started running when I was 5 years old, I've had dreams of running professionally, setting records, winning an Olympic gold medal and being one of the best in the world. I have always blindly believed that I was good enough to achieve those things.

As I've gotten older, I've put in more time, more miles, have become more dedicated, and have learned to genuinely love this sport. It's what brings me the most joy. It's where I feel the most me. I have always done it the right way. I've put my head down and just worked at being better year after year. I've stayed patient and trusted that the work and consistency would show.

I still have all of the same dreams I had when I was 5 and I've been incredibly fortunate to have been able to have achieved some of them. I still have others that I'm working towards. But the thing that truly drives me is the love and joy I get from what I do and the curiosity to find out what my potential is.

On January 14th, 2021, I received an email from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), informing me a drug testing sample that I provided on December 15th, 2020 has returned as an Adverse Analytical Finding for an anabolic steroid called Nandrolone and that I am therefore subject to an immediate Provisional Suspension. When I got that email, I had to read it over about ten times and google what it was that I had just tested positive for. I had never even heard of nandrolone.

I have since learned that it has long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone, since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts. Pig organ meat (offal) has the highest levels of nandrolone.

In the following 5 days after being notified, I put together a food log of everything that I consumed the week of that December 15th test. We concluded that the most likely explanation was a burrito purchased and consumed approximately 10 hours before that drug test from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon. I notified the AIU that I believed this was the source.

Although my levels were consistent with those of subjects in studies who were tested 10 hours after eating this source and WADA technical guidelines require the lab to consider it when analyzing nandrolone, the lab never accounted for this possibility. They could have reported this as an atypical finding and followed up with further testing. The anti-doping experts I have reached out to say they should have. I did everything I could to prove my innocence. I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world's foremost toxicologists. WADA agreed that test proved that there was no build up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly. Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision. Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly. I believe my explanation fits the facts much better- because it's true. I also believe it was dismissed without proper due process.

On June 11th, I received the news that the Court of Arbitration did not accept my explanation of what had occurred and has subsequently banned me from the sport for four years.

I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I've loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was.

I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused. I believe in the sport and pushing your body to the limit just to see where the limit is. I'm not interested in cheating. I don't do this for the accolades, money, or for people to know my name. I do this because I love it. I have so much fun doing it and it's always the best part of my day."

In another recent case, runner Brenda Martinez tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide but was eventually cleared after it was proven the chemical entered her system through a medication she was taking. Houlihan is considering appealing the CAS's decision.

While the burrito she ate didn't make her sick, consuming food without knowing the dangers in it can happen to anyone. For example, Habit Burger is being sued by a customer after he was recently hospitalized with norovirus-like symptoms. This is also why grocery items get recalled—like these five items at Costco.

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Amanda McDonald
Amanda is a staff writer for Eat This, Not That!. Read more
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