by Charlotte Andersen for SHAPE.com
To wear or not to wear underwear (in addition to your black stretchy pants) is only one of many questions fit ladies have. But whether you're a commando convert or a boy short believer, there are a few things you should know about health and hygiene when it comes to your wonder down under. We asked our panel of experts to offer panty-related advice for ladies who lunge (and crunch, bike, hike, run, and swim).
1. Bare or wear? Don't care! Whether or not you skip undies is up to you-panty lines are totally a personal preference-but there are some compelling reasons to consider covering up.
"Bacteria and yeast love a moist and warm environment," says Doerthe Brueggmann, M.D., of Health Goes Female. "So a very effective and simple protection is to wear any underwear under your workout gear to catch sweat and developing moisture. This is why it's not a good idea to go commando!"
RELATED: 7 Things Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health
However, David Bank, M.D., founder and director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery, adds that fabric choice is crucial when it comes to your workout gear. "If you frequently wear bottoms with moisture-wicking capabilities, then underwear is not necessary." And thanks to the latest innovations in fitness apparel, many pants and shorts have built-in undies made from wicking, antibacterial fabric, like the Get Set Go shorts from Under Armour ($40; underarmour.com).
2. Thongs are not your friend: While many women can't bear the thought of showing up to a spin class with VPL (visible panty lines), consider the potential side effects. "[Thongs] are usually tight fitting and tend to slide back and forth while you exercise," Bank says. "All of this friction and heat can lead to UTI's (urinary tract infections) and vaginal bacterial infections, regardless of the fabric."
David Elmer, M.D., consultant to Nantucket Cottage Hospital agrees, saying the thong actually works like a wick, drawing bacteria from the backside to the vagina and/or the urinary tract. A butt-bug superhighway? Um, no thank you!
3. Steer clear of satin: And lace as well. Neither fabric is breathable, and lace could rub you the wrong way (literally) and cause irritation. According to Christine O'Connor, M.D., director of Well Woman Care and Adolescent Gynecology at The Weinberg Center for Women's Health at Mercy Medical Center, the best fabric for exercise-friendly underwear is moisture wicking and breathable-cotton is good, but many of the newer synthetic fabrics are specifically designed to keep you dry. And for repetitive movements, like long distance running, buy underwear with flat seams that are non-abrasive.
Bank agrees that newer, exercise-specific fabrics are better than plain cotton. "Most [technical undies] are stretchy but supportive, which is great for climbing and kneeling. They also wick sweat far more efficiently than any cotton undies around to help keep you drier," he says. "The antimicrobial treatment within will also help to fight odor. These options are definitely worth the extra money to keep you healthy and dry when working out."
But don't get carried away. When it comes to "silver-infused" antimicrobial panties, you can save your money-studies show that 50 percent of the silver is gone after just a few washings.
4. You can wax if you want to: Many fit girls just feel "cleaner" if they're bare down there. But while it may look cleaner, waxing and shaving can actually have the opposite effect. "Pubic hair exists to protect the genital region and the sensitive skin in that area," Bank says. "When it is waxed or even shaved, you are removing an important layer of protection. Possible risks include STIs, burns, infected ingrown hairs, and scarring."
Still determined to keep things tidy? "Overall, waxing is the more gentle method to get rid of hair and should be the preferred method, especially if you have sensitive skin or easily develop infections," Brueggmann says. But if you go totally fuzz-free, you might want to consider wearing undies to keep that tender skin protected.
5. The art of the quick change: If you're training for a major event such as a triathlon or a marathon, you need to take extra care with your underwear since you'll be wearing it for so long. A little rubbing at mile two can be a full-blown blister by mile 20. To circumvent race-day disasters, O'Conner suggests planning your undergarments in advance, anticipating issues like chafing, and doing some test runs before the big day.
When it comes to water sports, heat and moisture are your worst enemy, O'Connor says. "These are the two things that encourage bacterial growth, which can lead to UTI's, yeast infections, or bacterial vaginosis." This is especially problematic if your training requires you to be in a damp suit for a long period of time, such as for a triathlon or swimming.
Bank recommends sticking with two-piece tri suits or swimsuits and quickly changing the bottoms to a dry pair during your transition from swim to bike. This will help you avoid yeast infections, although we daresay it won't do much for your modesty! (But if you're doing a triathlon you probably stopped worrying about that a while ago?).
6. Time of the month: No need to freak out and resort to granny panties (or even worse, miss your workout!) just because you're surfing the crimson wave. A white tennis skirt might still be a bad idea, but these days you have a lot of options to stem the flow. "Tampons or a menstrual cup will cause less friction on the vulva," says Rochelle Torgerson, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic. But whatever you're most comfortable with is the best option.
As for all those scented options? Pass. "It is quite the longstanding myth that women should smell like flowers down there!" Torgerson says. "We have apocrine glands in the groin. Odor is a fact of life."
As long as you follow basic hygiene-she recommends a quick shower using a mild soap after your workout-you'll be fine. (But any unusual odors require a trip to the doctor's, STAT.)
7. Putting the pee in plyometrics: Bladder leakage is a fact of life for many women who've had children (and even some who haven't!). But nothing puts a crimp in your workout (or a crinkle in your stride) more than bunchy pads or adult diapers. For mild cases of stress-induced incontinence, good old-fashioned kegels are your best prevention strategy, Brueggmann says. But if you have more serious leakage problems (more than can be contained by one pad or happens multiple times a day), then she recommends seeing a urogynocologist to discuss other options, including localized hormone therapy or surgery.
In the meantime, Dear Kate is a new company that specializes in "leak-free lingerie" and they have quite a few athletic options!
More on SHAPE:
5 DIY Health Checks That Could Save Your Life
50 Seemingly Healthy Foods That Are Bad for You
The Best Workout Plan for Your Body Type