The Goods

Sick of sweat stains? Here's how to pick a performance fabric that's right for your workout

A fashion tech expert breaks down what will keep you cool, dry and comfortable next time you hit the gym.

A fashion tech expert breaks down what will keep you cool, dry and comfortable next time you hit the gym.

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

It can be hard to keep up with fashion, period. It's ever-evolving, and sometimes even high-tech. In fact, there's a whole industry of material science that's helping to drive the fashion industry forward, and these innovations translate well into the the world of workout gear. Simply put, this means that your gym clothes can do more than just make you look good — wearing the right material can also increase comfort during your sweat sesh. But sorting through the racks when shopping can be confusing, so fashion tech expert Amanda Cosco stopped by The Goods to talk about the best fabrics to reach for when it comes to your next workout.

The all-natural all-star

Cotton

A trusty go-to, a lot of us throw on cotton when we hit the gym because it's breathable and easy to wash. It's also a natural fibre so it's great for sensitive skin and it's biodegradable. However, cotton absorbs moisture, which can sometimes make your clothes feel like a wet dishrag during a sweaty workout. This is because wetness reduces cotton's breathability, making it harder for the body to cool in warmer weather. Instead, Cosco recommends saving your cotton clothing for activities like yoga, weight training, or other low-sweat activities, and avoid it for high-sweat activities such as hot yoga, spinning, or running.

The stand-by synthetics

Nylon

Famously used to make women's stockings, this synthetic fabric is soft as silk, lightweight, mildew resistant, and dries quickly. It's also breathable and wicks sweat from your skin to the fabric's surface, where it can evaporate away from your body. You'll find nylon in all kinds of sportswear. Cosco mentioned that its biggest issue is that it isn't biodegradable like cotton.

Polyester

Polyester has a bad reputation, but when it comes to technical polyester, Cosco says it's definitely the workhorse of workout fabrics. It's durable, wrinkle-resistant, lightweight, and breathable. It's also non-absorbent, which means that moisture from your skin evaporates instead of being drawn into the material. Polyester also repels UV rays and insulates you even when it's wet, so it's great for those outdoor workouts. But the main drawback to this fabric is that it tends to get stinky. It's also not great for the environment because it's non-biodegradable and made using petrochemicals.

Spandex

Also known by its brand name Lycra, Spandex puts the stretch in workout wear; it can expand up to 600% its size! This materials offers unrestricted range of motion, then snaps back into place. It's breathable, wicks moisture from your body, and dries quickly. However, it's not biodegradable and not super long-lasting.

Cutting-edge creations

Nulux

This fabric (shown in the tights above) is incredibly lightweight and super stretchy. Nulux is formulated to be cool to the touch and is meant to feel like you're not wearing anything at all. It's said to dry fast so that wet, sweaty feeling doesn't weigh you down while you're working out.

Heattech

This is a Japanese-developed fabric that uses rayon to help wick the moisture away from the body and trap the heat in the fibre itself. It's said to provide warmth without all the the weight, and it's ideal for cold outdoor workouts.

Everlux

Everlux (featured in the tights above) is a fabric that's formulated to help pull sweat away from skin and disperse it in all directions so it can evaporate even faster. It's designed for breathability in low-airflow, high-humidity, and high-heat so Cosco says it's great for some high intensity workouts (hello summertime running!) and is supposed to retain its shape over time.

Intelligent innovations

Smart shirts

Body-sensing wearable devices are making their way into clothing now, and an American company called Sensoria specializes in putting them in workout wear. The integrated sensors inside the shirt featured above can monitor and track your heart-rate and provide real-time feedback. Plus it's fairly subtle — as Cosco pointed out, it doesn't necessarily announce itself as wearable tech.

Smart underwear

The Smart Underwear pictured above is from a startup in Toronto that wants to give your underpants superpowers. Their line is made using a patented knitting technique where the sensors are woven right in. In addition to aiming for comfort, these underwear monitor your heart rate, activity, posture, hydration, and body fat, and you can view your biometrics on an app

Some people may get nervous about electronics in underwear, but thankfully these undergarments use a wireless communication technology called Bluetooth low energy. According to the company, it emits energy approximately 1000 times lower than your cell phone or a typical Wi-Fi router. They even have something called EMI Shielding to protect you from radiation. And don't worry, they're machine-washable!

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