Go big or go home

Students and their love of supplements

Go big or go home

Professional athletes and weightlifters have been using supplements to increase muscle mass and help with recovery for a long time. ‘Iron Guru’ Vince Gironda was known to drink a concoction of raw eggs, protein powder, and heavy cream after working out, and athletes like Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and professional race car driver Danica Patrick are both spokespeople for the supplement brand Six Star Pro Nutrition.

Although you’d be hard pressed to find a student who drinks raw eggs, U of T does have a multitude of students who use supplements like protein powder or creatine as well as other pre-workout and post-workout blends. Bolstered by the popularity of protein shakers, the supplement industry is booming and students are some of its top customers.   

Realizing that the student demographic is increasingly in-demand of workout supplements, Jacked Scholar an e-commerce supplements provider has created a place for students to shop for, and buy their favourite supplement brands. 

Travis McEwan, founder of Jacked Scholar admits that, “the market in this demographic has never been bigger.” Jacked Scholar has even gone so far as to employ more than a hundred “campus ambassadors” for the company. 

According to the global consulting firm McKinsey, knowledge-based consumers are driving the recent attention to supplements. In their study of supplements, the company notes that 96 per cent of adults who use the Internet have used online resources to help them make decisions about their health and fitness choices. 

Companies like Jacked Scholar target the university demographic, hoping to entice students with cheaper prices on name-brand goods, and out-compete both local supplement stores and chains like GNC. It makes sense because e-commerce can provide a better price on a given line of products for students. 

Annette Latoszewska, a U of T student and former Jacked Scholar U of T representative, uses various supplements when she has the time to commit to a workout routine. “I like to complement [my routine] with supplements. Cellucor C4 pre-workout, not picky about my protein so it’s whatever is decent and cheap for post-workout and then I’ll use Cellucor SuperHD twice a day for fat burning,” she said.

Latoszewska also explained her duties while affiliated with the company; she was tasked to “promote the brand to generate sales. When your discount code is associated with the sale online, you get the credit [commission].”

Despite the fact the Latoszewska did not purchase supplements from the company, citing “cheaper options” she does admit that there is earning potential for those willing to put in the requisite time and effort. 

Nevertheless, McEwan is confident that the market at universities only has more room to grow. “We’re getting to the point where we can be pickier about the type of students that we accept into the campus rep program,” he explained. 

Another advantage of having supplements on campus is that it provides for an innovative testing lab. According to the McKinsey study, “new products will be offered as fads [and] go in and out of vogue.” Because U of T is like a Mecca for diverse groups of people, campus-specific supplement companies have the perfect ecosystem to observe what supplements work and what supplements don’t. 

Whether or not students will be interested in the long-run is an entirely different matter. Danny Lee, an economics student at U of T is aware of the campus presence and is firm when he advises students to “follow a workout schedule and eat right. Protein powder is like icing on top of the well-disciplined cake.” 

Supplements represent more of an idea to students than a reality — the idea of what’s possible. The truth is in the name. These producst are intended to supplement your normal, healthy diet, not replace it. So at the end of the day make sure that what’s at the end of your fork is more important than what’s at the bottom of your supplement bottle.

What does it take to be an all-star?

Students weigh in on professional league exhibition games

What does it take to be an all-star?

Every year, millions of hockey fans take a mid-season break to watch the NHL All-Star Game, an exhibition weekend that aims to showcase the leagues’ best players. All-star games have taken root in many professional sports leagues — most notably the NFL Pro Bowl, the MLB Midsummer Classic, and the NBA All-Star Game.   

Traditionally, league officials determined all-star rosters, which remains only partially the case today. For the NHL All-Star Game, 40 players are selected by the league’s Hockey Operations Department to compete on four seperate teams, and four individual captains  are selected by fans through an online voting system. Once the fans have elected them, the four appointed captains get to select their teams based on the 40-athlete pool. 

“I do enjoy the all-star festivities,” said U of T graduate student Shakeeb Ahmed. “Having the captains pick the team gives it a certain pond hockey feel to it.”

For Ahmed, the NHL All-Star Game is so enjoyable because there’s nothing to lose. Athletes get to showcase their individual skills, like hardest shot and fastest skate time, and with games using a three-on-three format with modified rules, some pressure is relieved. “[It’s] not so serious” he said, “like the rest of the NHL season. I think the game is of course for fun and entertainment [and] I also think it’s a way to showcase the immense talent in the league.” 

Lindsay Boileau, a business management student at Ryerson, prefers the all-star skills competitions to the actual games, citing the modified rules and nonchalant play from athletes as a deterrent to watching the game. “I personally don’t look forward to the All-Star Game each year,” she said. “Player’s aren’t trying their best and are going easy on each other. So it’s not very entertaining for me to watch personally.”   

Undoubtedly an opportunity to watch players let loose and have some fun — something professional leagues often forget — all-star weekends breed conversations surrounding who actually benefits from the exhibitions. 

Proceeds from the NHL All-Star Game go directly to players’ pensions, but is the event all fun and games, or does the league have a hidden agenda?

According to Ahmed, the exhibition’s only underpinning is that it gives host cities like Nashville, this year’s host, the opportunity to rake in a lot of added business. “[The All-Star Game] gives the city hosting it gain sales and revenue in large quantities in a short period of time,” he said, adding that this doesn’t just mean demand for NHL merchandise but for various businesses and attractions in the city as well.   

Boileau, for one, expresses more cynicism, admitting that she doesn’t see a point in the NHL’s hosting an All-Star Game, which looks like a money-grab to her. “Now you see players refusing to attend the All-Star Game after being voted in by fans,” she said. “This has led the NHL to suspend players for one game after the all-star break. So to me it just looks like a way for the league to make extra money.”

A self-proclaimed Leafs and Penguins fan, Boileau cites the John Scott controversy as a prime example of the NHL’s sticky hand in the all-star festivities. She agrees that this All-Star Game was defined by the audience the AHL goon drew, which had non-hockey fans tuning in to watch the exhibition. “This All-Star Game in particular probably did spark the interest of people who wouldn’t normally watch hockey. This is due to the media surrounding John Scott, an enforcer who wasn’t well known in the NHL. But this normally doesn’t happen, that a goon gets voted in.”

Overall, the NHL All-Star Game and the events leading up to it is made for entertainment purposes: to showcase the ‘not-so-serious’ side of different athletes. For every fan that enjoys All-Star Games, whether it’s the skills competitions or John Scott’s game-winning goal in the final, there are multiple players, coaches, and officials who revel in the opportunity to watch players just have fun.

“The surfing of the north”

The Varsity talks to U of T’s ski and snowboard club about the importance of winter sports

“The surfing of the north”

Although we’ve been enjoying an unprecedentedly warm February, it doesn’t mean that quintessential winter Canadian sports are out of the question for fun and exercise this season. A good old-fashioned Canadian winter isn’t absolutely necessary for many winter sports.

Alexander Magony and Layan Zananiri, co-presidents of the University of Toronto Ski and Snowboard Club (UTSSC), explained, “The conditions have actually been better than other years, surprisingly.”

Open to the public, the UTSSC provides the opportunity for everyone — from those who have participated in winter sports for their entire lives, to people who have never seen snow before — to partake in some of Canada’s favourite pastimes. The club’s upcoming reading week trip — five days at Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif — is the UTSSC’s main event and promises authentic winter conditions.

The Varsity sat down with the co-presidents to discuss how the club plans on promoting winter sports and how undervalued winter sports are on campus. 

The Varsity: What are some of the benefits of winter sports that students may not be aware of? 

Alexander Magony: “I find that winter sports in general have this sort of vibe like you’re making something good out of a bad situation since its cold and everyone is sort of miserable so it gives a kind of excitement to the winter season and snow… I feel like everyone who’s into winter sports tend to be more easy going [and] tend to be more social, it’s not very intense. It really is like the surfing of the north.” 

TV: How does the UTSSC promote winter sports on campus without a crucial element of winter: snow?

Layan Zananiri: “Our club is only recreational… it’s not like we’re going out searching for people who are amazing at snowboarding or amazing at skiing. Our only purpose is to promote skiing and snowboarding and community feel. So a lot… of the things that we do involve group stuff — it’s all about making friends and building [a] community.”

AM: “Skiing and snowboarding is in and of itself a very social sport…I know for me, being in pre med there’s a very certain type of population of students [in my program] and when I came to the ski club it felt like I was meeting all the other students…or there’s a general feel to the socialization within class.”

TV: Do you find that the cost of winter sports could be a barrier as to why some people do not participate?

AM: “It’s definitely one of the biggest barriers. It just depends on how much value I guess you get out of it… so it just depends on how you kind of justify it. It’s definitely expensive in an absolute sense and I’m sure that’s a barrier to many people.”

LZ: “But for what it is, when you’re comparing what we offer [compared to]… how much people usually pay for going out for seven trips to a mountain it’s affordable for people who are really interested in it.”

TV: Do you get a lot of people joining the UTSSC that have never skied or snowboarded before? How do you ensure they have a positive experience?

LZ: “So we actually offer free lessons for the first two trips up to Mount St Louis and we’ve had people that literally have never seen snow before — they’re coming from the Middle East, like literally have never felt temperature below five degrees…and so we coach them through that. We’ll teach them… through the trails how to ski and [how to take a lift] which is not easy the first time.”

AM: “Skiing and snowboarding is kind of nice to because you can kind of go at your own pace so as long as you’ve learned to stop and turn, which is what we try to get down in the first weeks. You can pretty much self teach yourself just by doing it at your own pace, how you’re comfortable and just moving up slowly.”

LZ: “Yeah, après ski!”

Skule slams the slopes

U of T engineers compete in annual concrete toboggan competition

Skule slams the slopes

The University of Toronto Concrete Toboggan Team (UofTBog) is a Skule club that designs, builds, and races in the largest engineering competition in Canada. The goal is to create a fully functioning, five-passenger toboggan complete with mechanical braking and steering systems, that can maneuver and speed to the bottom of a mountain the fastest. The catch, however, is that the skis of the toboggan need to be composed entirely of concrete.

The 2016 team, composed of 30 engineering undergraduates, arrived back from the five-day competition in Ottawa on January 31. The competition was the culmination of 10 months of hard work that the team had devoted to developing their unique design. 

The competition, which was inaugurated in 1972, is known as the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR); it brings together over 21 teams from across Canada, and one from the US. Attracting over 500 students, all of whom gathered at  Edelweiss Valley in Wakefield, Quebec to put their sleds to the test.

U of T co-captains Matthew Frade, a fourth year industrial engineering student, and Ozan Coskun, a third year mechanical engineering student, said that their most memorable moment from the competition was watching their sled, The Black Pearl, complete its first run. 

The UofTBog team have been strong contenders in the GNCTR every year since the ‘90s. This year the team took home both the most original award and most innovative honours for their carbon-fibre composed toboggan cage and pilot-themed design. The team also placed in the King of the Hill competition, taking home third place for the fastest toboggan. 

If you were wondering how fast a concrete toboggan can go, or how teams bring their sleds back up the ski-hill, Matt and Ozan note that their safety board reviewed design reaches 50 km/h and further, and that they employ a snowmobile to lug the 275lb monster back up the hill. 

When asked why they take part in this unique activity, Matt and Ozan note that like most engineers, their team takes great pride in a challenge, the innovation required, and the practical application of the skills they’ve gained through education.   

The GNCTR has an entire component dedicated to showing the most school-spirit, one award the UofTBog team refuses to give up without a fight.

In typical Skule fashion, the high-spirited team engage themselves in the nature of the competition.

The five-day experience comes complete with a hotel stay, visits to the downtown core, exhibitions, and plenty of beverages. The event also gives the contributing students a chance to network with other engineers from various schools across the country, in addition to providing both recreation and rivalry.

Following the competition, UofTBog will begin preliminary recruitment in an effort to put together another winning team for 2017.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the years and majors of Matthew Frade and Ozan Coskun. The Varsity regrets the errors. 

Science around town

Your guide to the top science-related events this week

Science around town


Hosted by Avrum Gotlieb, MDCM, FRCP, this series presents Dr. Emina Torlakovic whose research area focuses on hematopathology. 

Monday, February 8

4:00–5:00 pm

Medical Sciences Building

1 Kings College Circle


Admission: Free


Ebbinghaus Empire series presents Katherine Duncan, assistant professor at U of T’s Department of Psychology, whose research focuses on the study of neural and cognitive processes relating to human memory.

Wednesday, February 10

12:00–1:30 pm

Sidney Smith Hall

100 St. George Street


Admission: Free


Hosted by the DMZ at Ryerson University, this panel discussion focuses on companies like Airbnb, Uber, Zipcar. Panelists will discuss the state, startup opportunities, and the future of the sharing economy.

Wednesday, February 10

3:00–4:00 pm

10 Dundas Street East

Sixth Floor

Admission: Free

Stem cell therapy for the heart

Collaborative study between Columbia and U of T makes headway in heart regeneration therapy

Stem cell therapy for the heart

The use of stem cells in regenerative medicine is not a new concept in the world of biomedical research. Developments in the field are often glamorized as the future of medical research.

Yet behind celebrated discoveries, there persist lesser publicized mechanistic difficulties. With heart complications on the rise, significant research funding has been dedicated to the discovery of novel ways of using stem cells in the cardiovascular system. In the case of heart disease, the therapeutic success of engineered cardiomyocytes, although promising, has been limited by the history of arrhythmic complications associated with its integration into heart muscle.

In a collaborative study conducted by Columbia University and the McEwan Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Toronto, researchers are making headway in heart regeneration therapy.

Recently, they have presented the first evidence for programmable cardiomyocyte beating — a  potential method for reducing arrhythmia.

These heart cells, cultured from human embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells, were subjected to electrical stimuli with varying frequencies. After only one week, the cardiomyocyte treatment and control groups showed significant discrepancies in cell organization and maturity. Aligned with previous findings, this study shows that electrical stimulation frequency alone can determine the maturity levels of cardiomyocytes.

Unique to this study is the discovery of beating rate adaptation by the heart cells in response to a specified frequency of electrical stimulation. Characterized by rapid depolarization, an action that maximizes intercellular communication, and the expression of a gene called hERG, the ability of these cardiomyocytes to alter their beating rate to match stimulation frequency is remarkably long-lasting.

Not only can this frequency-dependent adaptation be maintained for two weeks even after removal of the stimulus, it can also evoke a similar behaviour in unstimulated neighbouring cells.

This conclusion is a step towards effective stem cell therapy for the heart.

The “modelling of disease, reliable drug testing, and [the] therapeutic applications of cells,” as listed in the published paper, are all possible applications of this electrical conditioning technique.

The researchers indicate that future studies will focus on the integration of electrically stimulated cardiomyocytes into damaged heart tissue.

Bill seeks to stop genetic discrimination

Bill S-201 currently in senate committee

Bill seeks to stop genetic discrimination

Picture this: U of T transfers you out because of your DNA. While it may sound like a twisted joke to most, this is exactly what happened to a Californian student back in 2012. He was told that because of his genes, he could no longer attend his middle school.

Although he was allowed back to school after his parents took this act of ‘genetic discrimination’ to court, it seems farfetched that a ruling was ever needed to resolve the issue in the first place. “It feels like I’m being bullied in a way that is not right,” he commented in an interview with NBCNews TODAY. It is worth noting that the decision was made because of a potential health risk to two students suffering from cystic fibrosis.

Bill S-201 is currently going through committee revision in the senate, after its second reading. It was first introduced in 2013 as S-218 and subsequently tabled, only to be reintroduced as the Genetic Non-Discrimination Bill by its sponsor Nova Scotia senator James Cowan, a long-standing liberal and lawyer by trade.

Dubbed as “an Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination,” it was first referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and later to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. S-201 prohibits “genetic testing of any person as a condition in exchange for ‘providing goods or services to that individual’” (3.1a) or as part of a contract. This ensures that the results of genetic testing cannot be collected or used without written consent, though it does not apply to healthcare industry professionals such as physicians, pharmacists, or researchers.

The legislation pertains to giving citizens and employees the right to refuse genetic testing, the choice to disclose results of genetic testing, and the need for written consent if results are to be disclosed. This law would be enforced by a fine of up to $1 million and/or five years jail time if indicted; or up to $300, 000  and/or up to 12 months in jail for a summary conviction.

It also includes provisions to various conventions including the Canada Labour Code, the Privacy Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. According to the bill, this is done: to extend the aforementioned rights to employees; to incorporate these rights into our human rights; to ensure our personal information now includes our genetic material; and to classify information from genetic testing as personal health information.

According to experts and officials, we are currently lagging behind in terms of legal protection. In contrast, our neighbours to the south have already imposed a Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in 2008 and anti-discrimination laws for genetics and health insurance in most states. There are exceptions such as Alabama, which only prohibits the use of genetic information for denying coverage for applicants with sickle cell anemia, because it outlaws considering a “predisposition for cancer in risk selection or risk classification.”

In a 2014 Second Reading Debate, senator Cowan made reference to various pediatricians, geneticists, and even celebrities, notably Angelina Jolie, in an effort to convince his fellow senators that advancement in personalized genetic medicine and research will be beneficial to adults and children alike, but it was being hindered by fears of consequences in insurance and employment. Citing Dr. Ronald Cohn, co-director of Sick Kids Centre for Genetic Medicine, Cowan emphasized that the lack of protection against genetic discrimination was “preventing many Canadians from benefiting from extraordinary advances in medical research.”

On a separate occasion, prominent scholars and researchers have also voiced their concerns for the urgent need for protection against genetic discrimination, including bioethicist Kerry Bowman of the University of Toronto.

The senator ended his speech by raising questions of his own: “Does it achieve its objectives? Are there unanticipated consequences we should be aware of? And of course, are there ways in which the bill could be improved?”

While this bill will be beneficial in advancing genetic research and personalized medicine as it is intended, cautions remain in the broader political landscape.

In conversation with Michelle French

Winner of numerous teaching awards, the physiology professor is respected by students and peers alike

In conversation with Michelle French

A common complaint regarding U of T professors is that while they are excellent researchers, they don’t excel as educators. Yet, there are still professors capable of instilling a love for the subject that they teach in their students. Dr. Michelle French of the Department of Physiology is one such professor.

French, who teaches and coordinates a variety of courses in the department, has received teaching awards from U of T nearly every year since 2003. Most recently, she’s taught a course she designed, Biomedical Research at the Cutting Edge.

A small seminar, the course focuses on teaching first-year students fundamental research techniques, and how to interpret biomedical research. The success and quality of the course is a clear indicator of French’s dedication to improving undergraduate education.

In an interview with The Varsity, French discussed her approach to teaching, and how best to improve Science education at U of T.

The Varsity (TV): What drew you to science as a career?

Michelle French (MF): “Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a medical doctor. I am not sure whether this was something that came from me or from my parents. So in high school and university, I focused on subjects that would prepare me for medical school. But I do have a[n] inherent interest in biology and physiology in particular. I really enjoy learning about how the body functions — from the cellular to the whole organism level.”

TV: What was your educational path like?

MF: “BSc U of T Physiology specialist, Zoology major; MSc U of T Physiology, PhD University of Western Ontario.  [This was followed by] two four-year post-docs. One at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research in Melbourne Australia and a second at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto.”

TV: What difficulties did you face in your own science education?

MF: “My first two years at U of T were tough. I did not realize how much I had to work outside lectures and labs to actually learn the material. This changed when a fellow student described his studying approach (two to three hours per hour of lecture — reading the textbook and redoing lecture notes). My marks improved in third year and an independent research course with Drs. Otto and Anna Sirek in the Department of Physiology in fourth year started me on a research path.”

TV: How do you attempt to make science [easier] to learn for your students?

MF: “I think that the key thing is to convey enthusiasm for the topic. When lecturing, I like to start with a case to draw the students into the lecture. I also create learning breaks (usually multiple choice questions) to help students refocus and I repeat and summarize as I go through the lectures. In my smaller classes, mainly, I try to incorporate opportunities for students to work in groups and learn from each other. I often think that the best learning opportunities come when I am helping the students to discuss and work through the material on their own or in groups rather that straight lecturing. For this to work, of course, you need to have a committed class, but I find that U of T students are highly motivated and willing to engage in these types of activities.”

TV: What do you like about education at U of T? What could be improved?

MF: “I think that U of T provides unparalleled brea[d]th and depth of areas of study for students to pursue. Whole new academic paths can be opened up to students who decide to take an introductory course in an area that they know little about initially. I also think that U of T has maintained its high academic standards and that a degree from U of T is valued in the outside world. In terms of what could be improved… I would like to see more classrooms that can be configured in multiple ways to allow for small group work in addition to lectures. I think that often students to look for the easy path with their undergraduate education. Partly this is driven by the desire [or] need to get high marks for professional schools, but I think that students should also make sure that they take courses that challenge them and build a solid foundation for future studies or for their career.”

TV: Why do you think you’re ranked highly as a professor with students? What could other professors do to improve their teaching styles?

MF: “I think that you should ask the students… But perhaps they can see that I do genuinely care about them, their learning and their future. One thing that I have learned is to try not to be too defensive when reading teaching evaluations and to try to learn from them and modify accordingly while still maintaining the academic rigor in the course. Students should know that we do read our teaching evaluations, they are incredibly important for making teaching improvements.”

Correction (February 8th, 2016): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Michelle French is a public health professor. In fact, she is a physiology professor.