The average effective mass of charge carriers produced by an intense ultrashort laser pulse in a transparent solid increases significantly as the excitation mechanism changes from multiphoton transitions to interband tunneling. We theoretically investigate this phenomenon for several dielectrics and semiconductors. For diamond as a representative dielectric, we present a detailed analysis of the laser-induced change of optical properties. When the concentration of free carriers is high, we find that the average effective mass controls not only the intraband charge-carrier transport but also the interband contributions to the optical response. We observe that the excitation-induced birefringence is particularly large for parameters for which the plasma response compensates for the linear response of an unperturbed solid.