Jesse Itzler Can’t Stop Moving


Jesse Itzler only eats fruit before noon and, for an hour each day, cycles between squat thrusts and running as fast as he can on the treadmill. image: mekayla roy

JESSE ITZLER KNOWS how to make things happen. The former rapper turned entrepreneur, endurance athlete, author and motivational speaker is a big believer in getting your foot in the door and figuring it out later. Fresh out of college, Itzler cold-called a studio head’s office and he mistakenly believed Itzler was an established hip-hop artist and scheduled a meeting. Itzler showed up, told the executive the artist was running late, put on his own music and landed a record deal. Under the pseudonym Jesse Jaymes he hit number 74 on the Billboard Top 100 chart with “Shake It Like a White Girl.” But the label didn’t make a second album, so Itzler started writing theme songs for professional sports teams, including the New York Knicks’ anthem, “Go NY Go.”

In 2001, the Roslyn native convinced a group of successful businessmen to invest in his idea for a prepaid flight card company, which became Marquis Jet. In what he considers his first taste of success, Itzler and his partner eventually sold the company to NetJets, Berkshire Hathaway’s private jet company. Never one to stagnate, the fitness enthusiast and ultramarathon runner formed the 100 Mile Group, a brand incubator for companies he started and those that needed help launching, like ZICO coconut water. “Our job was to basically dump jet fuel all over it and get it where it needed to go faster,” said the now multi-millionaire Itzler. “We used creative ideas, celebrity engagement and partnerships to do it.” Itzler’s group eventually sold ZICO to Coca-Cola in 2013.

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In 2010, Itzler was in a great place professionally and personally, but he felt like he needed to break out of his day-to-day routine. After meeting the inexhaustible Navy SEAL David Goggins at a 24-hour, 100-mile relay race in San Diego (Goggins ran the entire race himself), a light bulb went on in Itzler’s head. He cold-called Goggins the next day and asked if he would move in with him for a month. Goggins agreed on the condition that Itzler do everything he said. A few days later, “SEAL” was sitting at the breakfast table with Itzler, his wife (SPANX founder Sara Blakely) and their 18-month-old. By the end of the month, Itzler could do 1,000 push-ups a day and had knocked a minute off his mile pace, but he also had more patience to deal with life’s frustrations. He shared the experience in his humorous and inspiring bestseller Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.

One way Itzler continues to challenge himself is by having what he calls a “fuck it” list. Someone’s bucket list might contain places they’d like to travel or people they’d like to meet, but a fuck it list includes things that are difficult, like taking a cold shower every day or climbing Mt. Washington, something the 48-year-old recently completed. What’s on Itzler’s fuck it list right now? “I want to ride my bike cross- country,” said the proud part owner of the Atlanta Hawks, “do the Ironman triathlon in Kona and try to make the Harvard crew team!”

What was the biggest challenge Navy SEAL David Goggins gave you?
We did a lot of really hard things like jumping in a frozen lake after a ten-mile run during a blizzard. He broke through the ice with a boulder and made me jump into the freezing water and get out before frostbite set in. We wore 50 pound weight vests and did a zillion push-ups. But it was really the consistency of it. Like most of us, I was on autopilot and set in my routine of doing the same thing everyday. The hardest part was actually breaking out of that habit.

Explain the 40 percent rule and how it impacted your experience?
Navy SEALs have a rule: when you think you’re done and have reached your limit, you’re only 40 percent done. You can still tap into your reserve tank. SEAL believes our limitations are self-imposed. Most marathon runners hit a wall after about 18 miles when their mental resources are exhausted. Yet 98 percent still finish the race. When I was training with SEAL, there were many times I wanted to stop. But then I was like, “Whoa, I just did 40 more pull-ups than I thought I could.” Unless we push ourselves to the limit, we don’t know how far we can go. A lot of people stop before they’re even close to what they’re capable of doing. We had no limits. It was like, “Let’s see how far we can take this.” That was a really impactful lesson.

Any takeaways from living with SEAL?
I think the biggest is that most of my successes in life have come from getting comfortable being uncomfortable and doing things I didn’t want
to do or that I’ve sacrificed to do. SEAL put me through that everyday. It really changed my mindset and how I handle challenges in business and family life. The physical [pain] goes away but the mental toughness stays with you. Now when my son is crying, that’s a very easy thing to deal with. I’m a big believer that by exercising that grit and determination muscle, you can take your set point, whatever you operate at, and increase it and it won’t ever go back down.

Explain the challenge you have for your followers on social media.
I have an amazing challenge going on to celebrate this year, #2017ofeverything. Each month I post a new challenge for a different U.S. charity and anyone that participates, I donate $100 to that charity on the honor code that you completed it. In January, you had the whole month to complete 2017 sit-ups, 2017 push-ups, etc., no gym needed, and we raised over $110,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. In February, we raised over $125,000 for Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and March was for Special Olympics.

What’s your workout regimen like post-SEAL?
It’s the highest intensity I can go in the shortest amount of time. With four kids under eight, I don’t have the ability to go for super long runs anymore, which I used to love to do. So I have to do as much as possible as fast as I can. A typical workout is going on a treadmill and running for two minutes and then doing as many burpees (squat thrusts) as I can in a minute, and repeating this cycle for about an hour.

Do you follow a special diet?
I read Fit for Life by Harvey Diamond in 1991. One of the principles is only eating fruit till noon. The book challenges the reader to try it for 10 days and see how they feel. I had so much energy I haven’t deviated in 26 years. I eat fresh fruit till noon, changing it up based on what’s in season, and I’m big on smoothies. I’m probably 80 percent raw and 20 percent healthy food like kale or spinach pancakes. I rarely eat fish—only if I go out for sushi with my wife because it’s her favorite. I’m pretty much a vegan but I eat dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or greater). I’m super healthy till 8pm—and then I eat as much chocolate as I can get.

How do you get your protein?
That’s the number one question I get. The protein industry has done an amazing marketing job. But I’ve never met any vegans or vegetarians who’ve said, “I went to the doctor and he told me I’m protein deficient.” Everything has protein in it. I get mine from the same places that animals get theirs, which is from plants and seeds.

Why did you recently invest in the gluten-free Know Better Breads?
What I love about it is that most gluten-free products don’t taste great and aren’t necessarily healthy, but Know Better is nutritionally superior to anything I’ve seen and it’s delicious. It’s dairy, soy, grain and yeast free. And it’s made with superfoods that I know like flax, chia, coconuts and almonds. They’re also making a vegan version without the egg whites.

What’s next for you?
I’ve been doing a lot of speaking engagements around the Living with Seal book. I’ve decided to do a series of Living With books. I’m about
to go live in a monastery with monks in upstate New York for a month. They’re taking me in to be part of their prayer and lifestyle. I’ll be going from major physical activity to major spiritual. It’s one thing to read about motivation and it’s another to live with it. I’m just going to keep looking for people that I find inspiring and ask them to be my friend.

lisa heffernan

Lisa Heffernan received a master’s in Communications from Emerson College before moving to New York. She has worked for publications such as: Details, Nylon, Rolling Stone, Time Out, Newport Mercury, American Songwriter and W magazine.