Laura Massaro exclusive: Why going on the pill helped me become the best squash player in the world
When I was at high school I didn’t think too much about my weight, body shape or my body image. I was aware that I wasn’t overweight and that I had an athletic figure for a 15/16-year-old but without social media and the so-called ‘influencers’ that really are influencing our young people, I only had the athletes I looked up to on the TV and my friends to compare to. I loved Sally Gunnell growing up and so my role models were the athletes I wanted to be like.
I was in good ‘athletic’ shape as I left high school for college, but that changed as I hit college and put weight on as I came to the end of growing into a woman. I had to start thinking about what I was eating and I certainly became a lot more aware of my body.
Part of the reason I gained weight at 17/18 was because it was around the time I started on the contraceptive pill. My periods had become extremely heavy. I was getting severe backache and stomach cramps and feeling very lethargic overall. It was an issue that came to a head while trying to play the first round of an event with all this going on.
I spoke to people I trusted, listened to the older girls and women around me, and booked an appointment with my GP. We took the decision that starting on the pill was the right decision for my squash.
Within the first couple of months, my periods had become significantly lighter meaning no worries of wearing white skirts anymore for my matches. I was getting significantly less cramps and fatigue and, also massively important, I knew exactly when my periods were due.
Before starting on the pill I knew within a couple of days but what use is that when training or preparing to compete? You need to know something like this isn’t going to pop up in the middle of a warmup or, even worse, a match. Obviously, there is also the bonus of being able to skip a period which could be so important if the start was due to land right on round one.
Let’s be honest, winning at world level is hard enough without all the extras going on for women. However, with the pill did come some weight gain.
Your body is changing so much at this young age, so everything was evening out. Body image for women is spoken about all the time. Not only in a way of, ‘Oh, if she was lighter she would be better’. Of course I believe this, otherwise I wouldn’t have paid money and bought into a nutritionist.
The lighter you are the easier it is to move, the less impact there is on joints and the better you recover. It’s not about winning single matches, it’s about staying injury free and being recovered round after round. That is just on a performance level. What about the personal level?
It’s so tough as a woman, whether people are or not, you believe most people are commenting on how you look. Is her belly flat, is she toned, has she got good muscle definition or the worst of all, she’s got cellulite. I have thought people are thinking every single one of those comments while playing.
I have always had and, probably now retired, always will have, parts of my body I hate. I’m a bit too big here or a bit oddly shaped there. It honestly doesn’t matter what people say to you, it’s what you see and how you feel.
It’s always a difficult conversation to have with anyone, especially when it is between a coach and an athlete. I think it’s important to be aware that just because you are shining a light on issues doesn’t mean the person involved isn’t already aware of those issues.
The difficult thing is, one person takes a comment as constructive feedback and the next person takes it as personal abuse. It’s so hard to get a balance and I haven’t had to deal with it as a coach yet but have experienced it in a couple of different ways as a player and, in my experience, care, softness and discussion rather than telling is always the best way. Chances are whatever others are thinking it’s at least equal to if not worse in terms of what the player is thinking.
During warm ups I have worried my kit is too tight, my dress too short and have even done crazy changes during a match because I was worried about how I looked. You cannot concentrate on a game plan if that’s in your mind!
I have looked in the mirror countless times and thought, you can see cellulite at the top of my legs there and then sat with my dress pulled over my knees trying to give it a bit of extra length. Yes, I have got better. I got older and learned to accept my body. It’s done amazing physical things for me.
Once I had set the big goal and felt comfortable with my coaching and fitness trainer, I set about seeking the right person to help me on the nutritional side. That person was Chris Rosimus, who had previously worked at the English Institute of Sport but later with England cricket and England football.
I wanted to get a deeper understanding of nutrition and how it could help my match performances. Chris taught me that all calories aren’t equal. If I took in a calorie as carbohydrate, it reacts differently in your body to if you took it as protein.
With the changes I was developing in fitness, nutrition and physiology, I felt as if I was squeezing every little bit of potential out of myself. I was now confident that no other female player was pushing themselves as hard. I was driving towards my ultimate goal – the World No 1 spot.
All In, Becoming World Champion, by Laura Massaro, with Rod Gilmour, is published by Marylebone Publishing. (www.lauramassaro.co.uk)