Best Fabric Options For Runners: Why Your Outfit Matters

Running is one of the best forms of exercise for losing or maintaining weight. It also helps build strong bones, strengthen muscles, and improve cardiovascular fitness. What’s more, it is also one of the most affordable and easy-to-start exercise regimens. The only things you need to invest on are a good pair of running shoes and a proper running outfit.

Importance Of Wearing The Right Fabric

No matter whether you are a beginner or a veteran, proper running attire is crucial to your performance. Wearing clothes or socks that cause discomfort while running can cause blisters and chafing which can affect your performance negatively.


Most experts and coaches agree that it is best to ditch clothes made of cotton while running. Cotton fibers have a tendency to trap in sweat, which is the perfect recipe for blisters. A study conducted among 35 long-distance runners found that socks made of 100 percent natural cotton fiber were associated with a greater number of blisters compared with acrylic socks.1 As cotton retains moisture, cotton sweatshirts and sweatpants do not allow the body to regulate its temperature. The right running attire must be one that is light, keeps away sweat, helps the body regulate its temperature, and provides overall comfort.

Let’s look at some of the options runners have today.


Technical Fabrics For Runners

Clothes made from technical fabrics are scientifically designed to accommodate a wide range of motion. Made from synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, or Lycra, they are lightweight and are “anatomically designed,” which means that they are made keeping in mind the natural shape and movement of the body to ensure maximum mobility.

Benefits Of Technical Fabrics

One of the biggest benefits of technical fabrics is breathability. Simply put, it is the fabric’s ability to let water vapor (or sweat) escape and also block water droplets from outside.
Technical fabrics are also designed to regulate body temperature corresponding to the weather you run in. For winter, special fibers like synthetic fleece create air pockets to trap air in the body and retain heat, thereby providing warmth without being too heavy to wear.
Many outfits made with technical fabrics are sprayed with a water-repellant finish that shields runners from rain and snow.


Compression Clothing

Compression clothing is the new rage in running. These are clothes made with specially designed fabrics, cut and knit in a way that improves circulation during and after physical activity to help alleviate stiff, sore muscles and speed up the recovery process. They are also known to stimulate blood flow, reduce lactic acid buildup, and prevent muscle soreness. For years, such garments were used in the medical field to improve symptoms related to diabetes, vein disorders, and swelling. Now, they have been adopted by the running world with claims that they improve performance greatly.

Does Compression Gear Improve Performance?

A study conducted on 21 runners, at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, found that socks with compression in the area of the calf muscle significantly improved running performance. Researchers found that athletes who wore compression clothing ran longer and hit a higher speed during a maximal treadmill test.2


Another study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that wearing compression tights while running enhances overall blood circulation and decreases muscle oscillation, thereby making it possible to run for longer distances at a better speed.3

It has also been observed that the use of compression shorts increases skin temperature under the garment, which is considered to be beneficial for the muscle, decreasing warm-up time and reducing the potential for injury, especially in cold environments.4


Although there are varying opinions about increased performance by wearing compression clothing, experts have arrived at a consensus on the effect of such clothing on enhanced recovery. Studies show clear links between compression garments and reduced muscle soreness after sprinting.56 Better recovery also naturally translates to better performance in the next run.

Wearing compression clothing will improve your running, but only slightly. Don’t count on it as a magic pill for success.


Cons Of Technical And Compression Gear

Although technical fabrics score high on many counts compared with those made with natural fibers, there are also a few things you should keep in mind while purchasing them.

Technical fabrics may keep sweat away, but studies have found that they retain more odor than cotton fabrics.7 Belgian researchers analyzed the bacteria present in 26 t-shirts 28 hours after they were worn in a high-intensity hour-long spin bike workout. They found that “the polyester t-shirts smelled significantly less pleasant and more intense as compared to the cotton t-shirts.” They attributed this odor to the micrococci bacteria that grows more easily on synthetic clothing.


As these fabrics are artificially enhanced, the risk of you being exposed to harmful chemicals cannot be ignored. Recently, Greenpeace came out with a report backed by research done over the past few years highlighting the potential health risks of various chemicals used in sportswear. Dyes, solvents, and polyfluorinated chemicals that make these garments water-, grease-, and stain-proof could lead to conditions as serious as prostate cancer.8


Taking Care Of Your Running Clothes

The best way to minimize the ill effects of synthetic fabrics and make the fabrics last long is taking proper care of them. Here are a few tips you can follow:

  • Wash technical fabrics in cold water.
  • Allow them to air-dry.
  • Wash them inside out.
  • Wash with a special technical-care detergent.
  • Never use a fabric softener as it tends to clog tiny spaces in the fabric, reducing its breathability and allowing it to retain moisture.

Fabric Options To Choose From

Now that you have an idea about best fabrics to run in, here are a few options you could choose from:

  • Bamboo: Called the “Swiss Army knife” of performance fabrics, bamboo is gaining popularity among runners and athletes. Made from bamboo pulp, the natural fabric is light, moisture wicking, and it also protects the skin from UV rays.
  • Nylon: This breathable fabric is not just for your stockings; it is a good choice for your running gear as well, thanks to its moisture-wicking and quick-drying features. It also stretches well to accommodate movement.
  • Polyester: Commonly available, polyester is durable, lightweight, and wrinkle-resistant and absorbs moisture from your skin. It insulates you even if it is wet.
  • Polypropylene: This is the totally water-resistant sibling of polyester. It works well as a base layer as it keeps moisture away and keeps the garment from sticking to the body.
  • Spandex: This is the king of stretch; it can expand to 600 percent of its size and offers unrestricted movement. There is also less chafing, thus ensuring maximum comfort.
  • Lyocell: This biodegradable, wrinkle-resistant fabric is made from wood pulp. It has tiny hair-like fibrils that render it a luxurious texture and helps keep moisture away.
  • Wool: Best suited for winter, wool creates pockets that trap air and keep the body warm during runs.

Wearing the right clothes is as important as wearing the right shoes while running. It is a matter of comfort and hygiene, which could affect your performance and health. So keep these points in mind when you pick your run wear.