It’s a lesson that every adult inevitably learns: Life doesn’t turn out exactly how you thought it would. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though—the unpredictable nature of existence challenges us to grow and adapt, and sometimes, it opens doors we never dreamed of entering.
At least that’s been the case for entrepreneur and sports medicine guru Brian Littlefield. His passion for physical fitness, jiu jitsu and business inform his life choices today, but high school was a different story. He’s the first to admit that as a young man, he only had two things on his mind: cars and girls.
Through a winding path of self-discovery, he found a way to channel his enthusiasm into a successful, sustainable career. As the co-founder and chief product officer (CPO) of Jocko Fuel, Littlefield combines nutraceutical expertise with entrepreneurial savvy to provide athletes with products that keep them in tip-top shape.
In a recent interview with Brilliant Thoughts’ host Tristan Ahumada, Littlefield shares the business insights he’s gleaned on his journey and the process that led him to a life he never imagined.
Be open to transformation.
If you met Littlefield today, you’d know he was a man devoted to physical fitness and self-betterment. However, that wasn’t always the case.
“I’m not genetically gifted in the sense that I can eat whatever I want, never work out and have six-pack abs—that’s just not who I am,” he tells Ahumada. “So I kind of blew up, you know, in high school, and then really bad in college.”
It wasn’t that Littlefield wasn’t athletic; sports came easy to everyone in his family. But like many young people, he didn’t see fitness as a priority. He remembers moving into an apartment right next to a 24-hour McDonald’s during his freshman year of college—a coincidence that he took advantage of frequently. His interest in cars persisted throughout college, eventually leading him to a premier motorsports school in Ohio, where his lifestyle wasn’t any cleaner.
“In that period, I was traveling, working on a race team, eating shitty food, you know, living in shitty hotels,” says Littlefield. “I realized I just turned my hobby and my passion into something that I’m not really enjoying anymore.”
Littlefield had outgrown his obsession with motorsports, a realization that was only solidified by his inability to stay physically healthy in that lifestyle. Ready for the next stage of life, he opened himself up to transformation.
Accept that everything’s a process.
As Littlefield contemplated next steps, he remembered how his family always thought he’d pursue engineering or medicine. Science had always come easy to him, but that wasn’t the only career path that piqued his interest.
“I had always been drawn to business by my father,” he explains to Ahumada. “He was a multiple-time failed entrepreneur… Many, many businesses failed, but he never stopped trying.”
Littlefield says that he inherited his entrepreneurial spirit from his father, but he got his work ethic and drive from his mother, a woman he describes as an “absolute grinder.” As he reflected on the skills passed down from his parents, he started going to the gym with a new friend. One day his workout partner gifted him an old nutraceutical book, which he immediately found fascinating.
“This is when I was still doing the automotive program, and I would get done with my classwork… and I would get home and be up all night,” he says. “I’d be up all night reading about nutraceuticals and vitamins and nutrients and these phytochemicals and even different diet plans and workout plans… I had no idea why; I just really enjoyed it.”
Around this time, Littlefield discovered Brazilian jiu jitsu, a practice that would eventually become a life-long passion. He loved the way it not only challenged him physically, but also psychologically, a sort of “human chess.” Simultaneously, his thirst for nutritional and nutraceutical knowledge only increased, as did his desire to become an entrepreneur.
Dare to make new partnerships.
Within a couple of years, Littlefield had become so good at jiu jitsu that he began traveling to compete, and started coaching and teaching private lessons. In addition to physical training, he would also help friends and clients explore supplement options.
“I started to kind of curate these fitness diets and nutraceutical plans for people,” he says. “And then I went to the guy who owned the gym at the time, who I started training jiu jitsu under, and I was like, ‘Hey, dude, we have this plaza on a four lane road, you know, lots of traffic… Let’s open up a supplement store, let’s do it.’”
Together they formed Vital Sports Nutrition, a supplement store in Lima, Ohio. In addition to gaining experience as an entrepreneur, Littlefield began to dig deep into the products’ formulas. He found that many of the ingredient combinations didn’t work together as well as they could, so, naturally, he began experimenting with his own formulas and found success in creating more synergistic products.
Around the same time, Littlefield made a trip to visit family in Maine. Determined to maintain his jiu jitsu practice while traveling, he found himself in a rural dojo, where he met Pete Roberts, the founder of the sporting goods manufacturing store, Origin USA.
Inspired by the company’s commitment to U.S.-based manufacturing, Littlefield found himself drawn to the Origin enterprise, and within a couple years, he was living in Maine and working as the company’s chief operating officer (COO). This prepared him for the endeavor that would finally combine his love for business, fitness and nutraceuticals: co-founding Jocko Fuel, a signature line of nutritional products.
Origin soon entered into a partnership with Jocko Fuel, selling high-quality products formulated by Littlefield. Although partnerships aren’t always easy, he attributes much of his success to working alongside others with the same vision.
“Partnerships are tough—100%, they’re tough—especially if you are someone who kind of likes to have things your own way,” he concludes. “Whether quickly or not quickly, you will learn if you want to find success, you have to be receptive to other people’s ideas and processes…You’ve got to be a team player and be able to put the mission and the company and the brand before your personal needs.”