Why you should wear a sports bra with a tri suit


When I first started triathlon, I was already used to running and cycling. So I just registered for a very short triathlon to understand the fuss about triathlons 😉 A friend let me borrow a tri suit. It had an integrated bra but it didn’t feel like my usual bra. It got me to wonder if I needed to wear a sports bra under it.

I realized I never tried wearing a bra when swimming; so what would happen on the bike and on the run with a wet bra? Will the bra still provide any support when wet? Will it dry quickly enough? Will it be uncomfortable? So many questions… I wish someone would have helped me at the time.

With years of triathlon behind me and lots of women triathletes friends, I can share my experience on this matter and help you make the right choices. Let’s review sports bras in triathlon!

Can you wear a sports bra for a triathlon?

Wearing a sports bra in a triathlon is recommended. It increases comfort and will reduce the vertical movement of the breast, thus reducing pain and the risks of injuries. In triathlon, the sports bra is key for the running leg but you can wear it all race long.

The reason women generally wonder if they can wear a sports bra in triathlon is due to the nature of a triathlon event. It is very uncommon to swim with a bra and it sounds very silly to do so at first thought. It might also seem very uncomfortable to wear a wet sports bra after the swim.

This is why the industry has come up with specifically designed tri suits for women, with an integrated sports bra in it. However, these sports bras won’t fit most people and provide little support. It is best to wear a correctly adjusted sports bra that meets your size. This is why you should not bother with an integrated sports bra and just focus on using a bra that works for you in a triathlon.

Why you need a sports bra in a triathlon

Not all women are made equal with regard to breast pain. Indeed, some studies have shown up to 56% of subjects experience breast pain during exercise (Lorentzen & Lawson, 1987). And women with larger breasts have been proven to be more likely to experience breast pain than women with smaller breasts (Gehlsen & Stoner, 1987).

Studies have shown that sports bras reduce vertical oscillation of the breast, thus reducing the displacement of the breast and increasing comfort. Whether you experience pain or not, exercise-induced breast discomfort is as common as one in five adult women (Burnettet al., 2015). And sagging will appear faster if you do not wear a sports bra when exercising.

In triathlon, you generally train for each sport individually until race day. So, it is normal to wear a bra for cycling and for running. It is probably already part of your routine. But when it comes to race day, you have to swim, cycle and run without getting changed. Therefore, you either wear no bra for the entire race or one from the swim leg. And first time without a bra is likely to make you feel very uncomfortable during the race, and even cause you pain.

Note: in triathlon, the rules in transition can be quite strict with regard to nudity. This is why I consider it is not possible to put on a bra during the first transition. For more information on this topic, go check out this article I wrote about running shirtless in a triathlon.

Should you wear a bra under a tri-suit?

You should wear a sports bra that fits you well under a tri suit. In triathlon, some tri suits provide integrated bras but they will never give you as much comfort as a sports bra of the right size. If you are subjected to breast pain while exercising, it is even more important.

See for yourself how it is really made by looking at the following video:

Wearing a sports bra will also prevent your nipples from being visible through the fabric of your tri suit.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, on my first ever triathlon, I borrowed a tri suit from a friend with an integrated bra. I wasn’t sure what was best to do: wear my own bra under it or not. I went with using the tri suit bra only because it was only a very short distance and I worried I would feel cold in a wet bra. As you can see when I reach the finish line, my nipples were showing under the fabric on the photo finish ^^ Not great 😉

Does a wet sports bra feel uncomfortable in triathlon?

A wet bra won’t feel uncomfortable during a triathlon. Sports bras are made of fabric that dries very quickly, especially on the bike where you generate your own wind. And with the adrenaline of the race, you won’t even notice the wet bra until it dries out.

Will a sports bra reduce its performance once wet?

Coming out of the swim leg of a triathlon with a wet bra won’t affect its performance. It might increase the risk of chaffing from the straps of the bras, but generally, sports bras dry out quickly and you won’t even notice it is wet as you will be focused on racing.

Can you get chafing from a sports bra in triathlon?

The most common issue with sports bras in triathlon is chafing. It can be due to a wrong bra fit and also to excessive sweating and the soaked fabric due to the swim. You can prevent chafing by applying anti-chafe balm before the race. But always check your bra fit first.

When you choose a bra, look for a soft fabric with quality elastic bands. You should not feel any seam when passing your fingers on the fabric, else chafing is likely to happen during exercise. If the bra is too tight, it will also indent your skin.

As a precaution, apply anti-chafe cream under the straps and the elastic waistband of the bra to prevent any chafing. Some people are more sensitive to chafing than others. You can experience it also when training, generally on long-distance runs, or under rainy conditions.

In my case, I tend to get chaffing marks very easily, which I always notice when I turn on the shower after the race and the skin feels like it’s burning on each mark. This is why I use this balm.

What kind of sports bra should you wear for a triathlon?

For triathlon, a sports bra with good support is what you need. Compression bras are generally preferred by women with smaller breasts while others prefer encapsulation bras. What’s important is choosing a bra that fits you well and that is comfortable. However, compression bras tend to dry faster.

It’s not the kind of bra that’s important here but really how you feel in it.

But yes there are two types of sports bras on the market:

  • Compression bras

These bras push the breasts against the chest by holding it firmly in place as a whole. The breasts are compressed and maintained in place during exercise. It works best for women with smaller cups.

Example of a compression bra

According to a scientific study looking at US, UK, and China:

“The most preferred sports bras were compression style, with a racer-back, non-wired and wide straps”

Sports bra use, preferences and fit issues among exercising females in the US, the UK and China, N. Brown et al.
  • Encapsulation bras

These bras have each breast individually supported. It works best for women with larger cups. Some even have a zip in the middle.

What works for you is a question of personal preference. This is why I have only one piece of advice here: try many, and try again… until you find the right fit for you. Do not hesitate to run or do jumping jacks in the shop to confirm if the fit is good for you and if it feels supportive enough and comfortable enough.

How to choose the best sports bra for a triathlon?

  • Try, try and try to get the most comfortable one
  • Do jumping jacks or run around to check how supportive it feels
  • Prefer adjustability if you have bigger breasts
  • Check the fabric with your finger
    • seams can cause chafing
    • ventilation is required to prevent sweat from being trapped
  • Prefer materials that dry fast
  • Always choose the bra that fits best

What do female triathletes wear under a wetsuit?

Generally, female triathletes wear a tri suit and a sports bra under their wetsuit. The tri suit allows them to swim cycle and run without getting changed during transition. And the sports bra helps them maintain their breast to prevent pain and injuries.

Some women can be seen wearing only a swimsuit under their wetsuits on short distance events, and at the Olympic games. Generally, the women choosing this configuration have little breasts but it is not recommended as it will lead to sagging.

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