Do I Need Running Underwear?
For the average runner, owning running underwear (or, as I LOVE to call them, "runderwear") isn't necessary. For a short 5K (3.5 mile) run or your daily training, there is very little chance of chafing so you can get by without a pricey pair of underwear. Most athletic boxer briefs or jocks will be just fine for your training session.
So who needs running underwear? In what situations would they be absolutely necessary?
Heavier runners – If you are carrying extra weight (in the form of body fat), you may find that the fat around your legs tends to chafe when you run. Having a good pair of running underwear can help to reduce chafing while you run. They can also keep you cool while you run.
Men with thicker thighs – If you're one of those guys who spends A LOT of time working their legs, you may find that your thicker thigh muscles can rub against each other when you run. It won't cause the same sort of chafing you'd get if you had excess leg/thigh fat, but it can still be plenty uncomfortable. Running underwear will help to prevent the problem!
Heavy sweaters – For men who sweat a lot, chafing can be a very real issue. The material of your regular underwear will absorb the excess moisture and can bunch up around your legs and thighs. As you run, they can rub against your legs and cause serious chafing. But running underwear are designed to wick away moisture and are made of a quick-drying material that won't bunch up or rub you the wrong way. They're a very handy solution for heavy sweaters!
Long-distance runners – This is the group of people that definitely needs running underwear. If you run 10Ks, Ironman races, half-marathons, marathons, or any other sort of long distance races, running underwear are a necessity. After an hour or two of running, chafing is a very real problem (it's why men tape their nipples as well!). Running underwear will keep your legs and thighs from rubbing together, preventing chafing over a long-distance run.
But what if you don't fall into any of these categories? What if you're just an average runner who thinks they may like to use a pair of running underwear?
If you think running underwear will help you, it's worth trying out. They may be that little addition to your running outfit that makes your run more comfortable, thus easier to keep up with.
Here are a few things to consider before you take the plunge to buy running underwear:
What type of running shorts do you wear? Loose-fitting running shorts tend to have a lining (like a bathing suit) that hugs your skin, offering you support and preventing chafing. Running tights/leggings (yes, they're a thing for men, too!) are close to your skin. Both of these running shorts are intended to be worn WITHOUT running underwear. They are designed to prevent excessive sweating and chafing on their own. They may be too tight and form-fitting to accommodate underwear, so adding running underwear will just make things uncomfortable.
If, however, you wear generic athletic shorts, a pair of running underwear will come in handy. They will protect from chafing and offer support, and they'll easily fit under a pair of basketball shorts or workout shorts.
What type of underwear do you wear? If you wear cotton boxers, you'll DEFINITELY want to change things up. Cotton gets soggy when wet, and it is the #1 contributor to serious chafing when running. If you're a cotton boxers guy, it could be a good idea to use running underwear when going for a run.
If, however, you wear athletic boxer briefs or jocks, you may not need running underwear for your short-distance runs. Athletic underwear doesn’t offer the same support as running underwear, but it will help to reduce chafing and keep everything in your downstairs nice and cool. A pair of Nike or UnderArmour athletic underwear will be fine for your short-distance runs.
Is chafing a problem? Remember that running underwear is designed for two things: to support "the gentlemen" and to reduce chafing. If chafing isn't a problem (for short-distance runs), you may not need them. The added support and padding may be nice, but not necessary if there is no chafing.
But if you're the kind of guy who gets rubbed the wrong way when they run, you should definitely use running underwear. Triathletes and marathon runners aren't the only ones who have to put up with chafing—heavier runners, guys with thick legs, and even regular people can suffer. If there is any chafing, a good pair of running underwear can make your runs more comfortable and reduce friction.
How Running Underwear is Different
What makes running underwear different from your typical underwear?
Material – Regular underwear is usually made out of cotton, nylon, or a blend of natural and synthetic fabrics. Problem is, natural fabrics tend to get soggy when wet. Running underwear is almost always made of synthetic material that is lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. This keeps everything nice and cool downstairs no matter how much you sweat.
Insulated – Some running underwear is designed for cold-weather use, meaning it comes with an extra layer of insulation that will keep out the winter chill. These are usually sold specifically as a "running base layer" or "winter running underwear". They are designed to keep everything nice and warm while you run in snowy or cold conditions.
Ventilated – Unlike regular underwear, running underwear is designed with special ventilation panels to keep everything cool as you run. There may be mesh or synthetic fabric that allows air to flow over your genitals, preventing excessive sweating.
Supportive – The constant jolting of the running movement can take a toll on important body parts. Running underwear is designed to protect your junk (especially your testicles) from the high-impact workout. It will usually include a fabric pouch that offers testicular support.
Sweat-Wicking – This is a VERY important element of running underwear. If sweat dries on your skin, the grains of salt can create friction that leads to chafing. It can also dry your skin out, increasing the risk of minor damage (rubbing and chafing). The sweat-wicking material is intended to pull moisture away from your skin to reduce friction.
Fit – A lot of regular underwear is designed to be form-fitting and hip-hugging, but the fit of running underwear is slightly different. There is a bit more looseness around the hips, with compression around the legs and thighs. The elastic bands around the waist and thighs keep the underwear firmly in place to reduce chafing.
While you can use regular underwear for running (especially jocks and athletic boxer briefs), it's best to use running underwear for serious runs!
Running vs. Workout Underwear
It's difficult to tell the differences between workout/athletic underwear and running underwear. In terms of design, they're almost identical. They're both made of the same moisture-wicking, quick-drying material. They're both ventilated to reduce chafing and keep your genitals cool as you train. From a distance, they're almost exactly the same.
There are really only two differences between running and workout underwear:
Support Pouch – With running underwear, the testicle support pouch tends to have a bit more padding and fit more snugly. When running, you don't need the same freedom of movement as is required for resistance, HIIT, or CrossFit workouts. Thus, the pouch comes with more padding and support to reduce impact on the testicles.
Fit – The fit of running underwear is also slightly different from workout underwear. While workout underwear is designed for versatility and freedom of movement, running underwear is created more to be form-fitting and reduce chafing. There is a bit more looseness around the hips, but the thighs are tighter and the elastic of the legs firmer to hold the running underwear in place.
Small differences, but they can help to make your run/workout more comfortable.
Chafing Prevention 101
Running underwear isn't your only solution for preventing chafing on your long runs. Here are a few more tricks to reduce friction and keep your thighs and genitals comfortable:
- Choose the right material – Lycra and Spandex are excellent for running shorts and leggings. Polyester is another great choice. Stay away from cotton!
- Deodorize – Not your underarms, between your legs! Applying a layer of deodorant (roll-on or stick, not spray) can "lubricate" your thigs and reduce friction. Be warned: the deodorant will wear off within an hour or two.
- Apply Vaseline – Long-distance runners often apply Vaseline on their thighs to prevent friction. It can be uncomfortable at first, but once you get used to it, you'll find it's an amazing solution to deal with chafing.
- Powder up – Baby powder, talcum powder, and cornstarch can all help to keep your inner thighs dry for long-distance runs. The powders soak up the moisture and prevent chafing caused by heavy sweating.
- Use diaper cream -- Diaper cream can soothe irritated, chafed, or raw skin. For those who run long distances every day, it's good to have a tube of diaper cream handy to apply in case of irritation.
- Drink up – Staying hydrated can help to reduce chafing, as it encourages your body to continue sweating. When you stop sweating (because your body has run out of moisture), the salt crystals dry on your skin and rub against each other. Try to drink at least 16 ounces of water 60 minutes before your run, and consider drinking another 6 to 12 ounces every 20 minutes if you run for more than an hour.
- Wear the right clothes – That includes running underwear, leggings, and running shorts. These clothes are designed with moisture-wicking, chafe-reducing materials that will protect your skin. Longer, tighter shorts or running underwear can help to prevent the rubbing of your upper thighs.
- Try bandelettes – Bandelettes are bands worn around the thighs to prevent chafing. They're usually made from a synthetic microfiber with a silicone lining that will grip your skin and remain firmly in place no matter how much you move. You'll usually find them in a unisex design.
- Avoid seams and tags – Flat-seam underwear and shorts will be more comfortable, and stay away from any underwear or shorts that have tags. Both seams and tags can irritate your skin and cause chafing.
- Moisturize – Use moisturizing lotion to protect the skin of your legs throughout the day. That way, when you get to your run, the skin will be properly hydrated and more resistant to chafing. Moisturize the skin of your upper thighs at least twice a day to protect them.