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The ultrafast time dependence of the energy absorption of covalent solids upon excitation with femtosecond laser pulses is theoretically analyzed. We use a microscopic theory to describe laser induced structural changes and their influence on the electronic properties. We show that from the time evolution of the energy absorbed by the system important information on the electronic and atomic structure during ultrafast phase transitions can be gained. Our results reflect how structural changes affect the capability of the system to absorb external energy. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.